Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters


Dear Friends

Well, here we are again!

We started the year rather sadly. Having enthused about the general health and well being of Selwyn's father, Ben, he left us on January 16. However, he couldn't have chosen a better way to go.

On the previous Saturday, we had performed one of those occasional parlour-song entertainments as a fund-raising event at St Mary's, which was a huge success, with half-a-dozen of our extremely talented musical friends creating a delightful and professional evening. Ben had (uncharacteristically) insisted on coming to watch, persuading a couple of friends from Canvey to bring him over and take him back in an evening; he loved the show, applauding and laughing mightily; and enthused about it over Sunday lunch to his sister, Etta.

On the Monday he woke in pain and asked for an ambulance; they made him comfortable in hospital, he flirted with the nurses and had some tea. He fell asleep and the aneurism burst on the Tuesday, and he was gone. And according to Selwyn, who saw him in the Chapel of Rest, judging by the daft grin on his face - she was waiting for him. We buried him with Norma on a freezing January day, sang O Christ the same through all our story's pages (to the tune of the Londonderry Air), and a bishop preached at the funeral.

Ben continued the Tillett reputation for considerable longevity, being 86 years, 6 months and 1 day old when he died. Etta has just passed away too, on 21 November - three months short of her 90th birthday. We have some particularly enjoyable photographs of the two of them in their 1930s variety act - it's good to have such a theatrical background; and since Etta's death we have also discovered some wonderful stage photos of her with their baby sister Eva, who at 84 is about to celebrate her Diamond wedding anniversary with Alec.

Ben had been due to come with the St Mary's group on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February/March - when Selwyn went to the bungalow, he found his suitcase already packed. Cassie wasn't originally going to be able to go (Selwyn's place was paid for as one of the group leaders), but Ben's ticket had already been paid for - so she had a particularly poignant farewell gift from him.

We spent 10 days in that beautiful, troubled country. Fascinating, scary, weather that was variously filthy and stunning, deeply spiritual, heavily commercialised - we could spend the whole letter on the trip. Suffice to say that Bethlehem is an overrated nightmare (viz. the shooting star outlined with lightbulbs over the Shepherds' Grotto, and the plastic Tiny Tears doll at one of the altars in St Catherine's); Gethsemane was affecting and atmospheric, and we both specifically knew that Ben and Norma were with us then; and every emotion to be found in between. Please apply for further details, and be prepared to be bored with hundreds of photographs!

Our post-Easter recovery was spent in a wonderful hotel in Symonds Yat, Herefordshire - being seriously well looked after, and Easter Monday was also one of our two wedding anniversaries (the other being 17 April). The Autumn break was spent split - 3 days in each - between a superb place near Bakewell in Derbyshire, and visiting a great college colleague of Cassie's, Dorothy.

In the Summer, we took three weeks to visit Ireland. Everything they say about the Irish roads (dreadful), signposting (eccentric, to say the least), hospitality (the warmest we've ever met), food (superb) and musicality - not to mention pure chuzpah - is completely true. We described a huge letter C around the country, starting by landing in Belfast, moving up to Portrush to stay with a friend, across via Letterkenny to Pontoon (top left), down to Kenmare at the base of the Ring of Kerry (stunning) and across to Baltinglass, some 30 miles south of Dublin, for the last week spent in a self-catering cottage.

If you ever feel like going to Ireland - give us a ring, and we'll brief you. It's worth bearing in mind that (a) everything moves very slowly, including the traffic because of the awful roads; (b) dieting is impossible; (c) every area of Ireland will appeal to different people for different reasons. Once you've worked that out, it's brilliant - and very, very beautiful.

The theatre has kept us busy this year. Cassie played Sylvia in Stepping Out with Wallington Operatic Society in September, which was hugely enjoyable (My Terry's a scaffolder. Well, he'd have to be, wouldn't he, to get up these) - she wasn't at all type cast. Honestly. Tailcoat and fishnets, hat and cane tap routine at the end - great fun. Chimes, the parloursong group mentioned earlier, has done a couple of small charity events, and we're planning more for next year, including a full length concert for the St Mary's Flower Festival in May. Cassie also took part in a songs-from-the shows one-nighter at the Parkshot Theatre, Richmond, enjoying a couple of nice subtle torch songs (Losing my Mind, Send in the Clowns), and a similar fund-raiser for Epsom Players, singing I Never do Anything Twice... finally, Richmond Shakespeare Society put together an evening of role reversal, which involved Cassie playing Iago to the Othello of her boss, Maggie. Great fun.

As for going to the theatre - it's the usual strange mixture. On the professional circuit, there's been Uncle Vanya with Derek Jacobi, Company, Calamity Jane, Hot Shoe Shuffle, The Shakespeare Revue, Beethoven's Tenth (Peter Ustinov in sparkling form), Victoria Wood in a one-woman show in the Albert Hall; an assortment of Proms, including a lovely concert by Dawn Upshaw, and a trombone concerto in memory of Tony Hancock; Two Gentlemen of Verona at the new Shakespeare Globe on the South Bank; Fortune's Fool with Alan Bates, Kit & the Widow were a joy last week, and Stepping Out - The Musical was last night... In the so-called amateur world (just as good and often better), there's been Chicago, Twelfth Night, My Fair Lady, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (with Maggie as a very worryingly effective baddie - Cassie will never trust her again); A Slice of Saturday Night, Guys & Dolls, Into the Woods, A Chorus Line (simply stunning)... these are just the ones we've enjoyed! Before this month is out, we'll also have seen Nine, a Dickensian Christmas evening and a musical Agatha Christie...

Life in the church itself is always busy. This year has seen some frantic fundraising, and our contributions have recently included assembling a cookery book from parishioners' contributions of their favourite recipes. Since Cassie managed to sweet-talk some professional contacts in the printing world into doing the whole job for free, we stand to make a reasonable amount of money - we've sold about 75 copies already. Any more required at £3.50 a time, do let us know!

The abovementioned Maggie keeps Cassie busy during the daylight hours - and a few of the darker ones, too. The company, Managing Development, has really taken off this year, with loads of work coming in, a large team of associates, and overtime sufficient to cover all these holidays we keep taking! In this next year, Cassie is being sponsored by her boss to take some training which will enable her to become more of an associate than an office manager, going out more often as a trainer, which is very exciting. Our Christmas party this year is a group visit to The Sanctuary - a "pamper parlour" in Covent Garden. Nine ladies all going for massages, facials, manicures - what a life.

The flat in Minstrel Gardens was taken over in March by a new tenant - the mother of a temp we had at work, Jay, and her resident hearthrug, a giant dark brown poodle who stands about the size of your average Old English Sheepdog, called (honestly) Puppy. The flat is therefore paying for itself, but is a nice investment for us at the same time.

Those of you who were treated to the equivalent 1995 diatribe might like an update on which of our plans for 1996 came to fruition. Neither Paris nor Italy has happened, but we'll make sure they do in the next couple of years; The Diary of a Nobody didn't happen either, but Selwyn has continued to carry the Grossmith banner by completing the second volume of the music of George Grossmith, accompanying a tame(ish) baritone friend, Leon Berger, in promoting the works of this eccentric Victorian entertainer; the garden was tended to with enthusiasm all Summer, but is looking rather sad at present; and membership of the Wine Society has been much appreciated!

The Rector's eccentric doings are still in evidence. The latest is to be opening a bottle of said wine, sniffing the cork before pouring, and injuring his nose on the end of the corkscrew which was protruding through the end of the cork...

Your scribe is very proud of her weight loss. At the time of writing, she's managed to reduce from a top weight of 11st 4lb and bordering on a size 16, to 9st 12lb and getting into size 12 jeans. This is notwithstanding three weeks of Irish cooking, fairly frequent evenings spent entertaining friends and parishioners, and an enthusiasm for all things gastronomic. The best compliment was from the director of Stepping Out, who said Cassie, you've done really well, but Sylvia's meant to be overweight - could you pad up a bit, please?!

The old £300 X-reg Datsun Cherry finally bit the dust in May - not because she didn't go any more, but because the rust on the chassis meant that even our miracle-working garage mechanic, Pete, couldn't get her through another MOT. This necessitated buying something much more upmarket: a £350 Y-reg Datsun Cherry... The little white Renault is still faithfully getting us around Ireland, Somerset, Herefordshire and the Home Counties.

Last year's readers may remember that Cassie's sister, Jenny, was off to spend a holiday in Spain. She came back having fallen in love with the son of an English couple who run the local hostelry beloved of the relatives out there, handed in her notice at work and moved out to Spain in September! By all reports (regular bulletins received from Mum & Dad) she's very happy with the arrangement. We're now wondering whether Selwyn ought to be prepared to go over to officiate at a Spanish wedding!

As you can see, it's been another frenetic year - but this is how we like it. We certainly subscribe to the work hard, play hard ethic - and are getting a fabulous amount out of our lives. Who knows what the next twelve months will bring?

We hope your 1997 brings all you could want - and lots of laughter.

With our love -

Selwyn & Cassie