Hockney, spring and saying YES to joy

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (April 10th 2023)

A very happy Easter to you all... or whatever else you are celebrating today!

Dear Queenagers

On this holiday weekend I wish you all happy Easter, or Passover or Ramadan – whatever you are celebrating. Personally I am more of a pagan; what underpins all of these festivals is something much deeper, that sense of spring being truly sprungen, of life returning in all its beauty and fecundity after the long cold winter. Of the warmth and sun coming back to shine on us all again. It’s like a collective sigh of relief marked with high consumption of chocolate! What’s not to like? It’s like the world is screaming: Say yes to JOY!

This morning I walked in the blossom, white fluffy clouds reflecting in the water, birds tweeting, the magnolia at Kenwood House resplendent in pink and white flowers. I held my daughter’s hand (high pleasure, high treat) as we strolled through the woods where the skeletal trees are developing a green fuzz of sticky buds and the drying mud smells pungently fertile. We ate mini-eggs (the best part of Easter) and watched her dad swim in the pond.


No swimming for me for at least another ten days – I had a chunk chopped out of my upper arm, last week, a mole that could be dodgy. I’m hoping it’s fine, it’s the kind of procedure which seems part and parcel of the Queenager years. Whenever I see friends or meet you all, there is always someone having an investigation, or treatment. Many of you are coping with much worse than this, I know. I reckon we should just feel lucky that at least we have preventative medicine available. I’m trying not to worry about it unless I have to.

My mum – who has similar skin and is a veteran of many such procedures– came up to see me and sympathised. She is 80 and says that everyone around her is in various stages of decay and treatment; that ageing isn’t for sissies. That may be true, but to be honest, I was ambushed by how much it hurt, by how shaky I felt in the aftermath. I hadn’t prepared (can one ever?) for the shock of having a bit of my arm chopped away and how the stitches pulled – a bit like a plaster being taken off, but constant – for a couple of days afterwards.

None of us want to think about being ill. According to some new research from the Centre for Ageing Better being poorly and vulnerable as the years go by is the bit we all most fear.

I think I was in denial about what was happening. I’d stupidly arranged to go out for a birthday dinner with a friend after the biopsy; I didn’t want to cancel because I’d got a table booked at a great restaurant (Noble Rot, Soho, the best food in London in my view) and I didn’t want to let him down. Stubbornly I insisted on going, against the advice of those who love me  – and of course, I felt wobbly and wretched. It’s amazing how something as usually simple as getting an Uber to Soho and walking down a crowded street can suddenly feel like climbing a mountain when you are in pain… and then I made it worse by following up my late night with three big work Zooms (kicking off with a podcast at 8.30am the next morning ironically called Sexy Ageing!) which was just idiotic. I then hit the wall and spent the next 36 hours almost in bed, feeling miserable with my arm throbbing.

I hate being ill, still, vulnerable. I’m spectacularly bad at it. But having finally accepted the inevitable I found compulsive TV helped and having binge-watched the first two series of This is Us (extremely shmaltzy US family drama, kind of Gilmore Girls on crack on Amazon if you are interested) and slept, I felt better. And then I went on a very gentle outing to the immersive David Hockney exhibition in Kings Cross – involving lying on the floor and listening to his mellifluous voice talking about perception and perspective and how to enjoy the world we just need to PAY ATTENTION and look more closely. Easy when his wonderful paintings are filling the huge space with colour and sunshine.

I really recommend the Hockney. I HATED the immersive Van Gogh which I saw last year – that was truly naff, they animated his heavenly pictures with trains choo-chooing along and scudding clouds. It wasn’t art so much as exploitative projection. I love Van Gogh’s paintings, but what makes them great in real life is the way the paint is almost sculptural in the build-up of its texture, the intensity of the colours, the kind of 3-D ness of these small canvasses which posess stellar impact.

Please forgive my very terrible pics but it gives you a sense of it (husband left, daughter, right)

By contrast the immersive Hockney is narrated by him and actually shows how he paints using time-lapse imagery of his creating his canvases on the ipad, you literally watch him do it in real time but massively magnified across the walls and floor of the huge Light Room in Kings Cross. The ripples in his LA swimming pools and the caress of his gaze on his lovers’ buttocks are brought to life as he talks about how when painting water he is trying to capture its quality of both being a mirror and being able to see through it simultaneously. He talks about creating a sense of time passing in his paintings through building portraits out of polaroids; which all have their own timeframe. How photographs in their essence are just a second frozen in time but a painting allows time to expand, allows us to walk around and see an image from several vantage points at once as time passes… But best of all are his canvasses of Yorkshire woods through all the seasons – bare, be-blossomed, groaning with summer, shedding in autumn – or his drawing of the rain and the snow – which beats down all around you in the auditorium, a festival of light and elements.

Ever since I first saw the Hockney pictures from Yorkshire at the Royal Academy a few years ago I have seen the English landscape through his eyes; the purple of tractor tracks in the mud, the champagne of the May on the hedgerows, the twisting snakes of roads over hills. He explores how we see and why it matters – but most of all he celebrates the joyousness of being alive.

So today, feeling better, with spring fizzing in the sunshine, I feel very conscious of the heady pleasure in just being here, now, with the people I love, doing the work I love with all of you! And how art as its best allows us to engage with that feeling, to remind ourselves how precious just being here now really is.

So to that end here are two amazing events we’ve got coming up soon. The first is a Clothes Swapping event hosted by me and Tiffanie Darke (a great pal, see pic of us at the WOW festival a few weeks ago below, former Editor of the Sunday Times Style section, and on the Noon Advisory Board) who now campaigns on sustainability.

To celebrate Earth Day we are doing a Noon/It’s Not Sustainable joint event at the super glamorous Rosewood Hotel in Holborn in London where Tiff will do a talk about her new Rule of Five campaign. She  has just written a brilliant article about it for Noon. But in a nutshell she, after three decades of persuading us all that we needed the latest shoe/bag/trousers has realised that if we are truly going to save the planet we all need to consume substantially less. So she and many other high profile fashionistas have promised to only buy five new things a year (charity shopping and swapping is allowed). So for our Clothes Swapping party everyone who comes needs to bring something to swap – anything left over we’ll give to the Charity SmartWorks. There will be wine and fun and great clobber and it’s free to Paid Subscribers to this Queenager newsletter, £25 to anyone else. Hurry if you want to come and sign up as there are only 30 places, tickets on Eventbrite.

And because our One-day Retreat at Wasing was such a hit, we are doing two more – one on July 8th and one on October 14th. It’s relaxing yoga, a walk through the ancient woods, wild swimming in the pristine, beautiful Wasing lake, hanging out in the lake-side sauna, delicious lunch cooked on the fire and then a very special Noon Circle. Tickets on Eventbrite here, discounted for Paid up Queenagers of course. Do come and join us – if you’d like to know more you can

Read my newsletter about the last one here.

So Happy Easter all


By Eleanor Mills

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