The good meeting place

Charles 8 Comments

Posted by our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson

Where would we be without our Rover’s Return or Central Perk? The Corrie pub and Friends café are what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a ‘third place’ in his book, The Great Good Place. They’re neither home nor work, but accessible, accommodating and inclusive neutral ground where we can go to relax and converse with other people.

These third places are useful locations for gathering TV characters together for plot development but they’re now few and far between in real life, at least from my perspective. I frequent a London pub after work but rarely talk to anyone beyond my colleagues. As for solo visits to the local Costa, I never recognise fellow regulars and ensure I have a laptop as my coffee break companion.

Common places don’t exist for conversation, at least not dialogue with strangers. Some blame the internet for us leading increasingly insular lives but it’s just as easy to argue that social media is popular for everything from courting soul mates to fighting reprobates.

God forbid if all third places went from physical to virtual and the next soap was set on Facebook, but forums such as the Good Funeral Guide are indeed the contemporary equivalent of the 17th-century coffeehouse!

Coffeehouses were places where people gathered for caffeine-fuelled discussion of topics ranging from politics and philosophy to fashion and gossip.

From Christopher Wren to Samuel Johnson, they attracted more virtuosi and wits than the taverns, the absence of alcohol creating an atmosphere conducive to serious conversation (apologies for the times I’ve posted on GFG when under the influence!).

While some vocal GFG debaters might wish more regulars shared their wit and wisdom, many would agree that Charles Cowling has provided a welcoming third place in which to discuss the politics, philosophy and fashions of Funeralworld.

Nor is GFG a forum devoid of face-to-face dialogue thanks to the Good Funeral Awards. People who have got to know each other’s views online have met in person.

Not being in the trade myself, I’ve declined an invitation to the awards but I did drop by the Southbank Deathfest at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2012. Vale, reviewing it on this blog, wrote:
‘Through the door and, whoop! there are old friends and GFG regulars – Sweetpea, Belinda Forbes, Charles (whose phone rings constantly so that he is no sooner there than darting off again) and Gloria Mundi. There seemed to be friends of the GFG everywhere. Our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson, Ru Callender, Fran Hall and Rosie Inman-Cooke at a very lively NDC stand, Tony Piper and then GFG heroes like Simon Smith from Green Fuse, Shaun Powell from the Quaker initiative in the East End, helping poorer families to a good funeral. James Showers, Kathryn Edwards too. Who have I missed out? Who did I miss?’

It was indeed fun even though this so-called religious correspondent felt somewhat in a minority. Having just been introduced to Ru, he then introduced me to his friend from the British Humanist Association, describing me as ‘on the other side’!

Perhaps I was being paranoid but I also thought Vale observed me as a suspicious curiosity, too! Vale, Charles and the ever-charming Gloria Mundi accompanied me to a champagne reception marking an exhibition of whacky Ghanaian coffins. It’s a small world even when it isn’t ‘your world’ as I happened to know both the party’s host and the photographer hired to snap the event.
Happy 2015 to GFG and all who sail in her.


  1. Charles

    “ever-charming?” You silver-tongued young devil, Richard – good to hear from you. I well remember the bubbly and the company. There should be another South Bank DeathFest.

    Yes, the GFG is a sort of on-line coffee-house, a very welcome third place, and it helps pull people together in preparation for real-world meetings.

  2. Charles

    Most people need the third place, Richard, which is why this and other blogs are so successful. But are they? Are people even bothering to read them these days? Are they after even more immediate and swift gratification and social intercourse? I must say, in the increased demands on time, it is sometimes difficult to find a head slot for reading this blog, yet I love it when I do and am always moved to respond in some way. New year resolution – to read it more. But where do you stop? Gloria’s blog is also a great read. And your posts Richard are always well worth a read, as are many other regular contributors. Now there’s the rub. A lengthy entertaining post is something you simply have to find time to enjoy. A thought provoking post is another thing all together. You have to read it, then re-read it, then of course you need to formulate a response…..and then you are lost in conversations you possibly don’t have time for. Isn’t it sad though? I love engaging in the debates but am always conscious that He Who Must Be Fed is possibly sitting downstairs waiting for some company too. The difference in this modern third place is that it excludes those who are really with you. The flesh and blood you share your daily lives with. But please don’t stop because even if I do only pop in here occasionally, I do so enjoy it. Onward and upward GFG.

    1. Charles

      I fear you may be right, QG. Rather than savour my golden words, for example, people may rather Fckbk pictures of a dish they have just made, or spend time liking everything in sight. A puzzling choice, but there we are. Ego reinforcement rather than ideas exchange, perhaps.

      More seriously, I personally really don’t like the instant comms of Fckbk and Twitter. I understand their positive uses (moving examples during this appalling crisis in Paris, for example) but I agree with you – these sorts of social media encourage the monkey mind, keep it swinging from brief comment to unthinking remark. And yet book sales continue high, I believe? Maybe blogland is caught in the middle. Maybe I should work up a modest tome entitled “Gloria’s Answers to Everything”..?

      I think the GFG still thrives (perhaps not quite as sparkily as it once did, or is that just me?) because it focuses on a specific set of issues which are both intensely practical, and productive of more abstract thought as well, from time to time. No question it’s a high-value product! And it sports a top religious correspondent, as well as passing gobshites like me.

  3. Charles

    Richard you must forgive me, as my family will attest, I am a bit of a shit stirrer. Luckily, the GFG is completely free of this personality type…..

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