Books, leaves and the layering of memories

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (November 5th 2023)

My annual trip to Westonbirt for the autumn colour

Dear Queenagers,

Hope you are out enjoying the autumn leaves and the sunshine after the storm last week… I’m going to coming back to that in this week’s newsletter but first a few bits of housekeeping for your diaries.

1) The excitement – Queen of Queenagers Trinny Woodall is going to be our next guest at the December Noon Book Club. Paid Subscribers in the UK will just have received her new book Fearless … a kind of Bonfire Night extra present for you from me and Noon – it should be landing on your doormat now. Hope you enjoy it. Have to say I can’t work out what kind of skin I am… my wardrobe is a hodgepodge of all those colours. Maybe Trinny can tell me herself on December 11th when she comes to the book club at 7pm on zoom– to book your spot here is the link   Noon Book Club – Fearless, Trinny Woodall Tickets, Mon 11 Dec 2023 at 19:00 | Eventbrite   (it is free but only Paid Subscribers get a free book, courtesy of our friends at Harper Collins if you’d like to become a Paid Subscriber here is the link).

2)Tthe November Noon Book Club with Kia Abdullah discussing her brilliant thriller Those People Next Door is this Tuesday, November 7th at 7pm. Do come and join us, here is the link Noon Book Club – Those People Next Door, Kia Abdullah Tickets, Tue 7 Nov 2023 at 19:00 | Eventbrite. I loved the way this book played around with prejudices and different view points exploring some big themes, racism, terrorism, fear of the unknown, in a cleverly claustrophobic domestic setting. I am really looking forward to talking to Kia.

3) The November Noon Circle will be on Monday November 27th at 7pm at the Soho Flat and on zoom. Do email me if you are planning to come I get the right amount of booze etc. Noon Circles are for Paid Subscribers and are where we all get together to discuss midlife issues with special guests, it’s where new friends are made. Do come and join us.

4)  Noon Circle Christmas Drinks: Monday 18th December,  7pm at the soho flat, Paid Subscribers only. A Queenager seasonal celebration, do come and join us for some festive fun. Again please email me if you are coming

If you’d like to become a Paid Subscriber which opens up a whole world of Queenager fun, exclusive Noon Circles, free books, subscriber-only events, discounts to our Noon retreats and most of all support for this newsletter and Noon it is only £6 a month (not much more than a coffee) or £50 a year. If you’d love to be a member but can’t afford it do email me and I’ll see what I can do. We try to be as inclusive as possible.

The Queenager with Eleanor Mills is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

So – phew – back to this week…

As I write this the sun is shining on bright yellow leaves – the autumn colour is late this year but ravishing. Yesterday I took my annual pilgrimage to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire. It has the most stunning collection of maples in the whole of the UK – and for most of the last 20 years we’ve made the effort to be there to walk through them. Yesterday the forecast was for rain but miraculously the sun came out; the deep crimson of the leaves against the blue sky, the dappled light, the intensity of the colours. Truly the trees seem to fizz with pure red, with energy – with that deep and urgent sense of ‘I am alive’ – look here! Now! See me! I feel a real physical frisson walking into a grove of such saturated colour. So much red, or orange – or in my favourite tree red, gold and green layered together.


At one point I felt pure joy – the sun on my face, the leaves all around me (I’d got my head right into the middle of them), just that sense of being right here, right now…

Every year as we toil down the M4 to get there I wonder why we are bothering and every time when I walk into the grove and the wall of colour hits me with awe and presence, I remember. So if you have never been:Go!

This year the visit felt especially poignant because it was my eldest daughter’s 21stbirthday. We went to see her in Oxford the day before, took her out for a fittingly slap-up lunch – oysters, champagne, steak, after all you only turn 21 once! We turned up with a hamper of her favourite foods and an enormous cake. When she was a kid I’d buy her birthday cakes from her all-time favourite place, the Primrose Bakery (where we’d go for a treat after school); so this year we got her a huge one to celebrate her being 21; all pink icing and glitter and vanilla deliciousness. She was saying goodbye to childhood, I know, but everyone loves a proper princess cake… it seemed to be a hit, it even made it onto her Birthday Instagram post.

So we had a lovely time, but on her birthday proper she had so many friends descending from all over the UK and so much going on at Uni we left her to it. Which was why as she turned 21, my husband and I found ourselves at Westonbirt, surrounded by the ghosts of visits past. Everywhere I looked I could see our two little girls playing trolls under a tiny bridge; or the tree where the eldest stood next to a mini tree pretending to be a giant. The present was overlaid with so many layers of memory; our kids and those of friends piled onto a big log, their muddy bottoms from the wood slide, sloshing through puddles; manic games of 1.2.3 Home in the maple grove. This year was rather more sedate. Just the two of us. No buggies to push around, or children in slings on our chests. Just us and the trees and all those memories. Bittersweet.

I wrote after my silent retreat in France about becoming ‘ungloved’ – sloughing off the callouses so that we can feel everything again. I felt like that in Westonbirt. So open to the beauty of the colours and the forest and all those former visits and the strangeness of that very day, those very moments marking the adultification of our eldest child.

It is a big transition this switch from being every-day parents to more sporadic ones. Learning to switch in and out of those modes. It’s not just us. We went to stay with some friends on Friday who have three children all of whom are off at Uni or beyond. Their bedrooms are like mini shrines to their youthful characters; I slept in one full of pictures from Vogue, plants and tiny crystals. Another has a huge old rocking horse. One was back from uni for the weekend. We didn’t see him much; we heard vigorous cocktail shaking going on in the kitchen from his ‘pre’s’ with his friends before they went out.. Pre’s are all the rage with Gen Z – it saves money to be pissed before you hit the club. We oldies were next door, chatting, hearing the shouts from the kitchen – which suddenly went quiet. They’d all gone out without so much as a ‘bye’. It’s not just the parents who find the transition into adulthood tricky. At uni or in the world our young adults look out for themselves, they don’t need to tell anyone where they are going or when they’ll be back. Once home again they are in a strange limbo – dependent or independent? Of course as the mum you are always worried about when they’ll be home, whether they are ok. But that’s a muscle we have to learn to rest. To put down. I haven’t got the hang of that yet and nor had my friend. She shook her head. “I know he’s grown up but I still won’t be able to sleep till I know he is home.”

That said there are compensations to kid-free life. The house is quiet and tidy. Food stays in the fridge (rather than being instantly gannetted by a swarm of teenage locusts). I can lie on the sofa and watch whatever TV I want. My clothes don’t get ‘borrowed’ (particularly anything new or nice). I’ve noticed me and my husband have a lot of silly running jokes in the way we used to when we were first together. We look after each other more now we are not constantly looking after the kids. It’s nice being brought tea, or breakfast. We feel more like friends again, a team, co-conspirators. We were together for nearly six years before our eldest came along so we’ve done this before. There is also way more time..  I’ve been racing through books. Our Noon Book Club titles, of course, but also Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land and also his All the Light We Cannot See (about to come onto Neflix) if you haven’t read these yet, then lucky you, get them quick. I also enjoyed Ian McEwan’s novel Solar, about a fat Nobel Prize winning scientist, his self-obsession and the way that although he knows his over-eating is killing him he can’t stop. A brilliant metaphor for all of us and the planet.

So enjoy the rest of your weekend and see you soon – at a Noon Book Club or the Noon Circle. Oh, and if you’ve been thinking about the Queenager ski-ing trip in February, we’re nearly full – so book soon. Here is the link

Much love


By Eleanor Mills

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