The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (6th August 2023)
So excited to launch our next Noon Tour in April 2024 to Petra, Wadi Rhum and the Red and Dead Seas.
Happy Sunday and welcome to my weekly newsletter. Hello particularly if you are a new subscriber, we’ve got rather a lot of you over the last few days because Substack very kindly started recommending The Queenager! if you are new, my mission is to try and change the conversation about the later stages of our lives to something more positive, optimistic and fit for purpose. After all in 100 Year Life which statistically many of us will be lucky enough to live, 50 is only half way through. I coined the term Queenager because I felt like our 50s are the youth of old age, like a new teenager-time – but with, as one of our Focus groups put it – “my own house and clean sheets and nice tea”.
This weekend I’ve been camping on the top of a ridge in Hertfordishire in Storm Antononi – it was remarkably unstormy, really, even last night we sat around a fire in the mizzle, looking over the hills and watching the clouds swirling around. There is something magical about sleeping under canvas and just spending time staring at glowing hot embers and flames, toasting marshmallows, drinking rum and coke and shooting the breeze with a motley inter-generational collection of friends and their kids. We’ve camped with the same group every year for the last quarter of a century; four of the kids there this weekend were bumps when we did it 21 years ago. Now they are off at Uni, or working – I’m flattered they still want to come and hang out with us. This wider clan of friends and kids is like an alternative family; the kids have all known each other all their lives – it is like a yearly reckoning.
As is often the way in midlife, it’s not all good news. One lovely friend is having treatment for cancer, another is being forced out of a job they love; what I’ve learnt from three years now of working on midlife transitions is that as we get to 50 we get hit with what I call the midlife clusterfuck (or maelstrom if I’m being polite). Divorce, bereavement, redundancy, elderly parents coming to bits and dying, kids if we have them failing to launch, our own health issues… maybe a creeping sense of ‘what the hell am I doing, I didn’t choose any of this all I really wanted was… X’ – well what are you waiting for? If not now, then when… This whole Queenager thing is about making the most of the next chunk of our lives. I see that whatever it is that has kept us going for the last twenty or thirty years seems to come to an end at around 50 and if we are to thrive we have to reinvent ourselves. Not retire – we’re only half way through, remember. But pivot. Work out what we want from the next decades if we are here and healthy; maybe refind our earlier dreams or have another adventure.
What I do know that we need is support and a new tribe if we are going to do that. So that is what I have built at noon.org.uk – my community, platform and website to help anyone who feels like the rug has been pulled out from them at this point. I set it up when I was kicked out of my big journalism job after 23 years and when I Googled Redundancy all I got was the HMRC website. I wanted something that would help me start a new chapter, move into something new. So I decided to follow President Obama’s maxim and Be the Change I wanted to See so I set up Noon. And The Queenager is the weekly newsletter I write to our community of midlife reinventers.
We are becoming quite the political issue, us 50 somethings; of 8.6million people of working age who are out of the workforce, some 3.4 million are over 50. Last week I have to confess that the Department for Work and Pensions minister Mel Stride really got my goat when he said that the over 50s should get back to work and start riding bikes for Deliveroo. He obviously hasn’t read the statistics that many over 50s are out of the workforce because they are waiting – endlessly – for NHS appointments which means, jumping on a bike, even an electric one, is not exactly very helpful advice! But he is onto something: in the Noon research we did with Accenture into Queenagers last year we found that flexibility is 16 times more important for women 45-70 than status… so the aspect of Deliveroo which is work when and how you want is definitely in the right zone. Just maybe not the hours or the hills.. Maybe more useful would be to check out our Noon Jobs Board (vacancies from employers actively seeking experienced workers… so you won’t get knocked out by the algorithm). And we are just launching a whole series of articles and info about what I call Financial Spanx for midlife – everything you need to know if you are going to use your carefully husbanded resources most usefully to fund your next act.
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While Mel Stride got on my nerves, I was delighted to celebrate the launch of Dr Nighat Arif’s book The Knowledge – everything you need to know about women’s bodies and health. I love Nighat and I love this book. It is going to help so many people. Dr Nighat first sprang to national fame when she started making TikTok reels and Instagram posts in Punjabi and Urdu (her first two languages) about such taboo subjects as menopause or vaginal atrophy or dryness. They were so good that the BBC and ITV soon snapped her up as their on-screen doctor… it is a revelation to see Nighat in action. She talks so beautifully and naturally about all sorts of previously complex and shameful subjects. To see a woman in a hijab speaking openly about women’s health issues from periods to painful sex on national television has massively shifted perceptions. I’ll never forget her telling me that for many women in her Pakistani diaspora community, they had thought that menopause only happened to white women because they had never seen a woman of colour speaking about it or how it affected them. Dr Nighat was one of the very first people to join our Noon.org.uk advisory board, two years ago and we have shared many hilarious lunches and discussions together. She is always my go-to expert on menopause or for any panel. I’m going to be buying her book for all the women in my life, I suggest you do too! It was such a wonderful party – Nighat’s father, an Imam, was there, Dame Lesley Reagan interviewed Nighat (a great honour) and it was stuffed with lady menopause doctors from all sorts of different communities – this was definitely NOT a vanilla sisters event; I’ve written before about how important it is that the menopause conversation is inclusive, not least here in an article for the Guardian. Nighat’s book party really brought that to life!
But what I am even more excited about sharing with you today is news of our next Noon Tour. (New subscribers – Noon runs retreats, events and special-female led trips for our community. Paid Subscibers also get a free book for the Noon book club, discounts, and to come to a monthy Noon Circle, either in person in London, or online, with me. All for £6 a month or £50 a year).
Those of you who came with me to Morocco have been asking for details of the next one, as have many of you lovely Queenagers who come to the Noon Circles so today we are announcing our April 2024 trip to Jordan. I’ll be leading the trip, with my brilliant Noon Editorial Director who some of you have already met Diane Kenwood. We’ll be kicking off in Amman, sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin camp near Wadi Rhum, visiting the Red Sea, the Dead Sea and most excitingly of all Petra. I don’t know why but I’ve always had a thing about Petra – Rose Red City Half as Old as Time and all that. And we’ll be walking through the desert on a 15km trek and going on a jeep safari on the dunes. Most of all we’ll be laughing if Morocco was anything to go by. I came back with an ache in my belly from giggling so much; the kind of deep contagious laughter where we would all just catch each other’s eyes and corpse with merriment. The laughter was the solvent for so many woes and troubles. We talked, we shared, we saw our lives differently from sharing our stories with others. It was like an eight day long Noon Circle and I’m reckoning Jordan will be just the same (but with less intensive walking!).
It is a small group, only 15 women in total, all female – we’ll have a local guide supplied by the amazing Intrepid Travel who are a B Corps and will supply lots of our local experiences. If our trip to Morocco is a measure of the brand, the people will be warm, authentic and open; the food will be excellent and we’ll really get a chance to dig deep into the culture of Jordan and the Bedouin. I can’t wait to snorkel in the Red Sea (always on my bucket list), sleep under the stars (you don’t have to there will be a very comfy tent option) and go to Petra. But most of all I am looking forward to creating community and meeting and hanging out with lots of you.
Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis – we are launching it here today on the newsletter so you lovely Queenager Subscribers get the first chance to sign up. If you’d like to know the absolute details of the trip, what is included, what days etc then check out this link on the Noon website (CLICK HERE). And if you are new to this email and don’t know much about Noon or the Queenager then do read this account of our
amazing Noon Tour to Morocco. One of the best weeks of my life. And don’t just take my word for it, read Ali Fairhurst’s beautiful account of what the trip meant to her too (CLICK HERE)
I do hope you can join us. If Jordan is a bit of a leap for you, why not put your toe in the Noon community by becoming a paid subscriber and coming to our next Noon Circle later in August. (Details later this week).
Lots of love
By Eleanor Mills