Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters


Dear Friends

Well, that was a year that was...

When I sent out the 1994 version of this letter, quite a few of the recipients probably had to pick themselves up off the floor. The Rector's Wife? That noisy cow? Well, yes, actually - the congregation of St Mary's seems to be getting accustomed to their priest's sweeter half (as the Bishop put it - honestly) having a less than reverent sense of humour, a very loud singing voice and suspicious taste in earrings. Fortunately, they don't seem to mind too much, and have been completely welcoming to this curious animal.

That Wedding was as eccentric as you would expect. The only thing which was predictable was the weather - being a bank holiday Monday, it had to rain. The service was a splendid mixture of music, poetry and worship, with contributions from friends in every walk of life - clergy, theatricals, academics - the Bishop of Croydon presided at the Eucharist - the main players made their vows from memory (and got it right). The evening entertainment after the buffet reception was stunningly memorable - with the Imperial Opera Male Voice Choir, the convincingly drunken I Have Been to a Marvellous Party, the outrageously camp Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered by one of Selwyn's clerical brethren, and the final Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree, led by a few of the MVC with rolled up trouser legs.

From there, we collapsed for the inside of a week in the Lake District. On our return on Friday night, we settled to the highly enjoyable task of opening our wedding presents. It took about four hours, with a bottle of champagne on an empty stomach giving rise to the edifying sight of the new Rector's wife waltzing round the living room to whatever was on Classic FM at the time...

The theatrical activities had been rather neglected, but having settled into the Rectory, I've begun to pick up the threads again. We organised an evening of poetry and prose on an Autumnal theme, with three other parishioners, back in October to raise church funds, which was very successful - ranging from the obligatory Keats' contribution, to Winnie-the-Pooh. We're currently putting together a parlour song entertainment (of the type that I've done a few times in the past) for performance in January, called Let the New Year In; and I'm in a one-off "songs from the shows" performance in Parkshot, Richmond, in February.

The Rectory is a great place - a new (7 years old), 4 bedroomed detached house, backing onto Beddington Park, which is the last bastion of sanity before one gets to the delights of Croydon. I've had a whale of a time organising matters, as you can imagine, and having IKEA down the road has proved a considerable distraction. It was very telling when, having been asked to complete independently a survey about family clergy life, one of the few answers we didn't agree on (when comparing notes afterwards) was It's easy to find things in our house - I put true, he put false!!

The garden is large-ish, but copeable. It was suffering from two years' studious neglect, so some kind folks from the Parish spent a blisteringly hot day in August helping us to clear the worst of the undergrowth, since when we've actually kept up the good work, kept the weeds down and planted shrubs - including two roses that we were given as wedding gifts, which finally got into the ground in November...

After our brief honeymoon in the Lake District, we had a "proper" holiday in the Summer - 3 weeks' travelling in a large figure-of-eight around this country, staying in hotels on the week up and the week back, and in a self-catering cottage in Aberfeldy, near Pitlochry, for the middle week. The heatwave had really taken hold by the last week, and we spent the last couple of days crashed out by the River Ouse with icecreams and books. Bliss. We saw wonderful gardens, NT properties, castles and the like, ate and drank far too much, and had a marvellous time.

This PC has really been made to work for its keep - I don't do a huge amount of Parish work (as a matter of principle) but happily create the weekly notice sheets and any special service sheets. When I was flat on my back recently with a pulled ligament, I talked Selwyn through creating such a document, keystroke-by-keystroke - he's quite proud of his expertise now, and it saves him a lot of time, against the typewriter he was using before.

I rented out my flat in Minstrel Gardens to a lovely couple, Denise and Tony, who were so thrilled with the place that they wanted to stay on for the long term. And then I got a letter from Denise on my return from holiday, saying that at the age of 41 she had suddenly discovered that, far from being infertile as she thought, she was 3 months pregnant! She's just given birth to Charlie, so I will be losing my perfect tenants some time towards the end of next year, as it's only a one-bedroomed flat, far too cramped for a mobile small person.

My work with Maggie's training consultancy business, Managing Development, continues. She is taking on a new associate in the New Year, as her workload is outstripping how many hours she can give, so things are going very well. I've even been getting out of the office by providing time- and paper-management training for one of her clients, which gives a nice bonus each time. It's still a joy to be working locally, and for a friend, and with the flexibility to take Thursdays off with Selwyn - otherwise I'd never get to see him.

Parish life is always hectic. People tend to ask "What does he do for the rest of the week?" - i.e. when he's written and delivered his sermon! On a light-to-average week, we reckon he works 70 hours over 6 days (he's clocked a 93 hour week when he ran a time-and-motion study once, out of interest) - an assortment of meetings relating to church, local schools, local uniformed groups; wedding, baptism and funerals; the appropriate rehearsals, discussions and follow-ups (and St Mary's sees a lot of weddings, being picturesque); an average of 40 phone calls per day, for information or counselling; not to mention the general pastoral care that he's actually there for! And at the same time, I get asked if I'm giving up work/my theatrical projects... presumably to run coffee mornings. Very strange.

So it does make for chaos, but our lives are very fulfilling, both separately and together. We've introduced each other to some wonderful people; our individual interests cross over and exist apart (for instance, Sondheim meets Sullivan, singer meets pianist, photography meets church architecture); I'm chief cook, he's commis chef (yes, you did read that the right way round, those of you who've known me for longer than three years); and each can bully the other into actually relaxing occasionally. Wonderful. And, of course, our attitudes to our faith have somehow come along separate roads to the same point - too long a story to go into here, but believe me, it works.

We have lots of plans for 1996 - enjoying ourselves, mostly. A return visit to Paris is planned for the Autumn; hopefully a long-threatened visit to a friend of Selwyn's in Italy in the Summer; more theatrical projects, including a dramatisation of George Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody; getting the garden into an enjoyable state (in the words of one of the songs at the end of the wedding We'll make our garden grow); making the most of one of our most enjoyable wedding presents (membership of the Wine Society); lots of theatre and green bits - in fact, as much as possible.

It really does seem implausible that I could be enjoying myself this much after the disasters of four years ago, but it's happening. Above all, there's a lot of laughter. (Not surprising when you have a husband who manages to replace his hot coffee in the 'fridge and the milk on the table; cuts himself when shaving with a battery shaver; tries to look out of a window which isn't, and doesn't, open - etc. How he got to the age of 40 on his own in one piece, I can't imagine.) Not that I'm exempt from that sort of idiocy either, but I'm writing this letter, and have the editorial blue pencil.

Gradually, he's putting on weight and I'm losing it - which is the right way round; he can't get any of his 30" waist trousers done up now. My cooking must be pretty reasonable, I guess. Microwavable meals have been banned from the house.

Those of you who have met my car - well, she's still going strong. Every time she gets through another MOT, Selwyn maintains it's divine intervention. Come next May, we'll have to see, but when she does eventually go, I shall be very sad. Best £300 I ever spent.

As for the rest of the family - all goes well. Ben, Selwyn's dad, was very poorly back in the Summer, but has rallied like the old theatrical trouper he is - when he stops flirting with all the ladies of the Parish and with every shop assistant he meets, I'll get worried. He turned 86 in July. My mum and dad are enjoying semi-retirement - they're both technically pensioners, but dad does so much in the garden, with his wine-making and on the golf course that we wonder how he ever had time to go to the Post Office to work; and mum is working part time, still teaching at the local swimming pool. It's enabled her to save up enough for a trip to visit friends in South Africa next February.

Jenny is still working at Sky Photographic and living at home - she went on holiday to Canada a couple of months ago, and is going to Spain to spend Christmas with our aunt and uncle. She and Ben have a mutual admiration society going, separated by nearly 60 years! Ben and my parents are coming here for Christmas this year - first time I've persuaded mum to let me cook the turkey for her since I left home in 1981. Let's hope I get it right.

Anyway, as always, I hope this finds you enjoying life as much as we are - and that 1996 is a great one.

With our love -

Selwyn & Cassie