Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters
St Nicholas Window, St Mary, Beddington


Dear Friends

How was it for you? We refer, of course, to that landmark year, when we all were as much concerned about how to express the date on our cheques as the possibility of the much-heralded Bug getting into the nuclear defence systems. Perhaps this was going to be the year when it all went magically right or horribly wrong; at any rate, it would be different!

Well, as far as we were concerned, it was just the same as ever - nothing out of the ordinary or unpredictable. In other words, it was frenetically busy, painted in every colour of the rainbow, full of great people and happenings, interspersed with panic-stricken cries of I can't cope and no way can I take that on as well - oh, if you insist… Like we said, just the same as always. Will we ever learn? We do hope not!

When we left you at the end of 1999, we were coming to the very end of Selwyn's three-month sabbatical. He left Devon refreshed, more relaxed than he had been for a long time, and whilst the book he'd been working on had only progressed to so many draft chapters, it was a definite start. We enjoyed a brief break in a pleasant Dorset hotel (during which time we assembled and despatched last year's round robin), and returned to Wallington in time for a day or two more at home to find our feet before the Christmas celebrations began.

Our Millennium Eve was celebrated with some of our parish friends. We gathered for food and drink, and settled in the living room to listen to Selwyn reading a couple of brief pieces, finally keeping silence as we waited to hear the bells of St Mary's at midnight. In fact, we could only just hear the bells, as the fireworks which reverberated all over the surrounding countryside made a spectacular amount of noise! We opened the fizz and piled out on to the front drive to watch everybody else's fireworks.

The following day, a lunchtime Eucharist was followed by a party hosted by our bell-ringers - complete with a chance to "ring" using bottles! And we were off and running into 2000.

Theatrical activities continue with the same mad enthusiasm. We started with an entertainment based around Shakespeare and the music he's inspired across the last 300 years - The Best Will in the World. This was a great success, performed at Richmond Shakespeare Society, with Cassie directing and Selwyn accompanying - and both, of course, performing, with a splendid cast of multi-talented performers. However, Cassie has learned from that experience that it is not wise to combine a major theatrical project with the preparation of the annual parish accounts…

At church, we enjoyed presenting a selection of poetry and prose to complement our Flower Festival in May, called The Sweet o' the Year. September saw us both involved in a semi-staged production of Cox & Box and its companion piece Penelope Ann at the Gilbert & Sullivan Society; the Richmond Shakespeare Society's quiz night involved our musical help in the "name that tune" round. In October, Chimes Musical Theatre re-convened for the first time in a year to perform for local churches - another "review of the century", called I Remember It Well, at St Peter's in Woodmansterne and St Nicholas in Sutton.

October also saw a staged-and-costumed play-reading by St Mary's PROs (Play Reading Organisation); following our previous productions of Blithe Spirit and The Importance of Being Earnest, our offering this time was GBS' Pygmalion, and a good time was had by all. The line describing Higgins (Selwyn, of course) which ran "He can't behave in church - he keeps correcting the clergyman's pronunciation" caused much amusement…

In November, we joined our friend Pam Gower and four other performers for an evening of prose, poetry and music based around Hallowe'en, called Things that go bump in the night. Cassie and Maggie over-acted their way through the Cat Duet; Selwyn stopped the show, as always, with Tom Lehrer's I hold your hand in mine; and have you ever heard Jabberwocky read in German?! "Es brillig war. Die schlichte Toven/Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben…"

As if that wasn't enough, Cassie has just finished the year in style, playing Goldilocks in the panto of the same name - again, at Richmond Shakespeare Society. The cast consists of some of the biggest hams in the society, upstaged effectively by a talented chorus line of early-to-mid teens. Cassie sports a green & white gingham dress and ringlets, gets bodily carried from the stage by one of the villains, tap dances with the bears… we kid you not. Nice to know that she's getting dignified in her old age.

Well, we needed some holiday amongst all this lot. Easter saw our third visit to that most favourite of cities, Paris; we stayed in the most eccentric hotel ever, close to Abbesses metro in Montmartre, and loved it all as ever. Our summer holiday was particularly special this year: Normandy & Brittany. Our friends Sue & Graeme have over the last decade or two converted an ancient cottage into the most wonderful little haven imaginable, and we had a superb time there, before travelling further west and staying in hotels for the last few nights of the holiday. Very relaxing, extremely beautiful places, and - as always - excessive amounts of food and drink. Well, you try staying in Normandy without eating too much Camembert…

Lastly, Selwyn's holiday now exceeds the allowance that Cassie can get out of Epsom Council, so after a couple of days together with our good friends Dot & Milton in Bolton, Cassie returned by train to Twickenham for a Goldilocks rehearsal. This left Selwyn to drive to Bristol to spend a few days studying his Tillett family history. As a result, he now has traced his tree back 12 generations on that side, to Thomas Tillett born in about 1570 in Winterbourne, Gloucestershire. We've also caught up with some new Tillett relatives, including the nearest male Tillett relative that we've found so far - Peter in Cambridge. There hasn't been a great deal of time for Cassie to continue this particular hobby, and she is really missing her studies. However, she'll be back on the Skingley trail in the new year…

The immediate family is still going strong. Cassie's parents are fine; her dad is now in much better health, walking with occasional use of a stick instead of on two crutches, since he finally had his second hip replacement earlier this year. He has gently started to play bowls again, but the golf may take a bit longer! Her sister Jenny is working hard over in Spain, and is expecting her second baby towards the end of January - Mum will be going out to visit her then.

We occasionally need to knuckle down and earn a living! Selwyn has managed to persuade some of the parishioners to keep on the administrative tasks that they performed during his absence. However, his role as area director of Post Ordination Training more than uses up any time generated in this way. He organises courses and meetings, liaises between new priests and their colleagues, travels all over the area - and all this without the luxury of a curate of his own! Of course, Cassie had to get her sixpenn'orth in somewhere, and last year ran two of the POT courses for "fledgling priests", majoring on (of course) Time & Paper Management. She was immediately booked to do the same thing in 2001, so must have told them something useful!

As if that wasn't enough, Selwyn somehow found himself as Chaplain to the Secombe Theatre, in Sutton. This now involves him visiting the theatre occasionally, and watching a motley assortment of shows… he's managed to avoid anything by Max Bygraves so far.

Epsom & Ewell Borough Council continues to provide challenges, as Cassie roams around being a troubleshooter (aka troublemaker) for various administrative processes, using her IT skills in many ways. It's a very steep learning curve, but much enjoyed. The present contract runs until next Easter - it may well be extended thereafter.

Oh, and whilst we're on office skills… Cassie found herself co-facilitating a week's consultancy with her colleague from many years ago, Andrea Dales from Video Arts, in - of all places - Sarajevo! It was a wonderful experience, with a great many varying emotions and impressions of a beautiful and troubled place. Sarajevo itself is lovely. Set in a valley, there are views up the green hills from most places in the main centre. Wide pedestrian precincts are full of cafés, shops and bars, especially frequented in the evenings when whole families promenade up and down Obala Kulina bana; the river Miljacka reminds one of the Liffey that flows through Dublin, punctuated by tiny bridges. Some of the bridges are named for those murdered on them. Bullet holes and destroyed buildings remain all over the town. The delegates were mostly locals, but they all spoke excellent English. Most had lived through the war, and lost friends and relatives to the sniper bullets. An incredible experience, which she wouldn't have missed for the world.

Cassie's clothes-selling venture - the Weekenders range - continues happily, and developed a fair customer base - including many amongst the congregation. Somehow, they've managed not to duplicate on what they buy - although Selwyn does sometimes play "spot-the-Weekenders-outfit" from the pulpit!

Then there's the parish treasurership… St Mary's is gradually recovering from a very difficult period financially, and we're pretty pleased with ourselves for reducing a debt which three years ago stood at £104,000 to around £38,000. This has involved some fascinating research into St Mary's history, and reading the PCC minutes across the last century is most enlightening!

Occasionally, we still like to see other people doing the work, and as ever, have paid many visits to theatrical and musical events. The professional shows started with an energetic and hilarious studio production of Three Men in a Boat at the Wimbledon Studio - with the three men playing all the characters in the story. Noel Coward's little-performed Song at Twilight, with most of the Redgrave family, was very enjoyable; Timon of Athens at the RSC was simply stunning. Also at the RSC, we loved Singin' in the Rain. Maggie Smith was glorious in Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van, and the theatrical device of having two actors playing Bennett himself was wonderful; and Pal Joey, at Chichester, was hugely enjoyable.

Celebrations of the year 2000 abounded, of course. Peter Barkworth and Stephanie Cole presented a lovely, gentle entertainment called A Year to Remember at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. Somewhat less effective was the enthusiastic but unimpressive Time Will Tell, presented by a huge cast of local professionals and schoolchildren in the grounds of next door Carew Manor. Our own choir presented a superb 1000 Years of Church Music, which was much praised.

Other St Mary's concerts included Midwinter Miscellany, with members of the congregation and their families producing a high standard of performance with flute, voice and children's choir; the Albinoni String Orchestra were superb, as ever. Our choir showed their other talents in Hands and Voices by playing other instruments, including the cello, violin, organ, trombone and alto sax. We'll make sure they come back next year to show us how they are getting on!

We've seen several performances at Richmond Shakespeare Society this year. The Millennium celebrations began with a superb journey through time called Spirit of Man. Measure for Measure included some joyous moments, and a very dark frisson when the Duke demanded Isabella's hand at the end. Much Ado about Nothing was their annual open-air production, and was excellent. Finally, Wallington Operatic Society provided a lovely Hello, Dolly (with our good friend Pam giving her farewell performance in the title role before departing for America).

For those of you who are reading this letter in its electronic format, you'll know Cassie's enthusiasm for the potential of IT! You're obviously reading this on the website, and hopefully it will progress to being something a little more sophisticated as her knowledge grows. At least e-mail makes it easier to stay in touch - you can send it at any anti-social time of the day or night, which is often the only time she's here!

So Christmas approaches, and yet again, this letter is written in a brief pause between performances, accounts, meals, visits and work. We're looking forward to spending Christmas Day with Cassie's parents (after the morning service, of course!); Boxing Day with Cassie's cousins and their families; and the few days between Christmas and New Year with each other. The intention is not to get involved in any theatrical ventures between Christmas and Easter - at least until the parish accounts are out of the way in time for the annual meeting in April! This, in turn, should mean we can be a little more sociable with all those neglected friends and relations. We think of you all often.

May this New Year bring all you wish yourselves.

With our love -

Selwyn & Cassie