Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters
Madonna & Child, Willingale, Essex


Dear friends

Looking at the diaries in order to write this letter, we think our New Year Resolution has to be to learn to say no - but what to?! The difficulty comes when every activity is enjoyable, but the hours in the day are packed as tightly as a certain lady's wardrobe rails!

So where have we been this year? Whilst Cassie has managed to stick to resolutions about staying out of "regular" shows - operatic or dramatic society commitments of 3 or 4 nights per week - has held, it hasn't prevented a fair few performances taking place…

Chimes Musical Theatre has been Cassie's pride and joy for some fourteen years now. We'll let anything between a week and two years elapse between performances, but when we do get together - a wonderful assortment of young(ish) professionals and excellent amateurs - to provide entertainment for charitable causes, the results are always a delight. This year saw a programme called Weird & Wonderful, performed once at Hammerwood Park - a stately home in Sussex - and once at Froebel College in Roehampton. The first of these was recorded (the only time this has happened), and it's great that it was such a lovely performance, with a superb line-up of ten first-rate performers - the largest cast we've ever had, I think. There were variations between the two shows - in personnel and in the programme - and both were a joy to be part of. Our plans for 2002 include Wilhelmina House (a retirement home in Croydon) in February, a performance for the Jubilee (venue tba) in June, and a fifteenth anniversary show in November (help!).

We seem to have found our way into the world of the "lecture-demo" (as we used to call it at college), too. You might remember that a couple of years ago we assembled a talk on "the (music) halls in the thirties", complete with OHPs, audio and live demonstration; well, March saw a recreation of that for our local almshouses, and a further version due later this month (drawing on the experiences of Selwyn's family on stage); and we've also talked about our genealogical studies. Similarly, Selwyn has spoken about his work on the life of his "honorary godfather", Brother Bede, who was a close friend of Selwyn's parents, and whose biography he hopes to complete some day!

Poetry readings have become a highly enjoyable feature, too. In April, Selwyn took part in a repeat performance of Almost an Island, the lovely anthology of poetry & prose about the Dengie Hundred (Essex) which he's been doing on and off for several years now, with our dear friend Beryl Board. The Richmond Shakespeare Society holds monthly "Monday Evenings" in the bar - informal entertainments on a wide range of themes - and in May, Cassie took part in an evening dedicated to the legend of Tristram & Isolde, which was enlightening and most enjoyable (if you haven't met the Lawrence Binyon version, go read!). Likewise, September found us both in O for a muse - an evening themed on wannabe performers! - co-ordinated by that excellent lady, Pam Gower, who played Cassie's mother in My Mother Said I Never Should… two years ago.

Selwyn still finds himself accompanist to colleagues in the most curious locations. In June, we found ourselves in the Elite Cinema in Leyburn (Yorkshire) - a tiny venue, and populated mostly by rather unwilling schoolchildren - with our friend, Leon Berger, for an afternoon of the works of George Grossmith. We then adjourned to a nearby school who hadn't been able to get tickets, and performed for them in their gym - once Leon had sustained himself with a couple of large brandies!! Oh, and by the way - this was happening on Election day, so we hurried back from William Hague's constituency to vote in our own - and made it with about a minute to spare before the polls closed…

And then, there are the performances at (and for) St Mary's - and that doesn't include the ones at the altar. Fund-raising activities involving the Tilletts have included Tea & Symphony (cream teas with light entertainment, with Zoë White [Chimes Musical Theatre], Emma Cavadino and Les Cozens) in June; Pudding & Plonk (come and eat/drink after your main course at home) with Carolyn Churchyard; and the hugely enjoyable Lord Arthur Savile's Crime¸ performed by St Mary's PROs (Play-Reading Organisation) - a staged and costumed play-reading, with Selwyn & Cassie as Lord Arthur and his fiancée Sybil. This last was especially a complete riot, with a smoking bomb (sponge ball, painted black, joss-sticks in the top), an exploding umbrella, unsuccessful poisoning attempts…

Which brings us to St Mary's, and its many and varied activities - fund-raising and otherwise. Well, the fund-raising continues to work through the outstanding loan from the Diocese - from £103,000 at the end of 1997, to a projected £25,000 by the end of this year. The play-reading above, a wonderful choir concert, a car rally treasure hunt, an August afternoon of sausages, sangria and croquet (yes, honestly) - and, latterly, a highly successful Christmas Fair - it all keeps the bills paid, and us out of mischief! Not to mention the fund-raising spearheaded by our Tower & Bell Ringers for the re-hanging of our bells - without detriment to regular church fund-raising, they've managed around £11,000 in the last year.

And yes, there is worship as well… special events have included a superb Stainer's Crucifixion (including our lovely Chimes tenor, Stephen Brown, taking time out from Glyndebourne), a wonderful Stanford Requiem for All Souls (with Stephen's wife Joanna, our own Emma Cavadino, Martin Quinn and our friend Simon Morrow); the lovely experience of a recreation of a Passover Supper, which proved so popular that we hope it will become a regular event; and all that takes place regularly, on Sundays and through the week, which means so much to us.

Oh, and speaking of church… October also saw a weekend of greater-than-usual activity, when we were visited by the ex-members of SMYF (the St Mary's Youth Fellowship). This organisation existed between the 1940s and the 1970s. Entertainments, meals, services abounded, not to mention frequent renditions of their particular version of Much Binding in the Marsh and The Whiffenpoof Song!

For her sins, Cassie continues as PCC Treasurer at St Mary's - the 2001 Financial Statement looms, as soon as Christmas is over. It's hard work, but we've made a satisfactory amount of progress in consolidating old investments, paying off loans, and keeping all our bills paid. This is the girl who failed her mock maths 'O' level with ignominy (they clearly got the wrong paper in the real one). Oh, and she maintains the parish website, too!

So what about friends and family? Well, Cassie has just returned from taking her mum on a 2½ day trip to Paris (mum's birthday present from the previous week) which was great fun—beautiful sunny weather, boat trip, visits to the huge shopping centres on the north bank, lunch in the Tuilerie Gardens... what a life. Her sister Jenny gave birth to Samantha (aka Poppy), a very lovely young lady, back in February - just in time for grandma Peggy to meet her before she finished the holiday in Spain that was planned to follow the birth…

Our summer holiday, spent mostly at home, gave us the chance to catch up with several friends, which was great fun - including a brilliant sunny day at a Viking Craft Fair in Sussex!

Cassie’s flat in Minstrel Gardens has for the past year and a half been occupied by Sam & Alex, who have been great tenants; as they’re getting married next year, they’ve now decided to buy somewhere, and just last night we were delighted to meet their replacements, Dave & Cara, who will be moving in at the end of January.

That daft hobby, genealogy, continues to occupy the odd spare moment. Cassie has been contacted by several new members of the Skingley/Skingsley clan in the course of the year - Edward in Lancashire, Jackie in France, Emma in Middlesex, to name but a few - and Selwyn has suddenly found himself corresponding with four separate American ladies (hmm…) regarding their common Tillett ancestry. We've also been delighted to welcome visits from some of our Skingley contacts, including Robyn & Richard from New Zealand.

So we like to see others doing the work occasionally, especially in the theatre. Visits to the professional stage this year include several small-scale studio performances: Zippertydoodah (yes, honestly) at Wimbledon Studio Theatre - Giles Brandreth and a group of fresh-out-of-drama-school characters, 100 shows in 100 minutes; an excellent evening about Jack Buchanan, at the same venue; a real old queen of an actor Playing Shakespeare at the Mill at Guildford (yes, well…). Noises Off at Richmond Theatre was a delight, with Patricia Hodge and Peter Egan; Putting it Together at Chichester was bravely done two days after the Twin Towers atrocities; and Cymbeline at Shakespeare's Globe was simply stunning - a tiny cast of actors playing all the parts in identical costumes with no scenery and minimal props, but totally brilliant.

With our friends on the (so-called) amateur stage, we were treated to several first-rate productions at Richmond Shakespeare Society. Maggie Dawson (Cassie's friend and ex-boss) directed a stunning The Mill on the Floss; King Lear and The Herbal Bed were excellent; The Three Musketeers was one of the funniest things seen in ages. Sadly, Selwyn missed this latter show, as he was in the middle of a 36-hour round trip to Aberdeen to bury his uncle Alex.

Elsewhere, Wallington Operatic Society presented a superb Follies - not an easy show, but achieved with a huge amount of style and talent, especially that of the four main characters and their ghostly younger selves; and Imperial Opera made a brave and largely successful stab at the wonderful Street Scene.

And then, of course, there was work! Selwyn not only runs the parish without the aid of a curate, but has for the last two years been responsible for POT (Post Ordination Training) in the Croydon area, so this involves various social, educational and theological events - including several suppers at the Rectory. Cassie's work at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council now happens three days per week, and is highly satisfying: a trouble-shooting (trouble-making?) role, in process and IT consultancy. In addition, there has been quite a bit of freelance work on the same lines in the last few months, with clients as far afield as St Albans, Mortlake and Salisbury!

So after all this - well, we needed to rest up occasionally… January was spent partly in Bristol (more family history research, for ourselves and others), and partly in a splendid hotel in Wolverton - mein host Noel needs a book to describe him. April found us in the excellent Holdfast Cottage Hotel in Malvern - highly recommended for the food, the welcome, and the distinguished teddy bears; and after our "useful and sociable" summer, we spent a week at the lovely self-catering Toad Hall, near Cerne Abbas in Dorset (complete with its manly white-man-on-the-hill) and the wonderful Swannery at Abbotsbury. (The chaps there have a fair bit in common with us—trying to stay calm on top while paddling like blazes underneath...)

Oh, and we always give you a car story. This year’s is a bit less dramatic than usual: the old white Renault Campus finally coughed and spluttered her way to the scrap yard (although our spies tell us that they have seen it revamped and for sale locally!) and, courtesy of a maturing TESSA, was replaced by a three year old Renault Scenic—plenty of space for suitcases, music stands, costumes and the rest, lovely and easy to drive, the luxury of power assisted steering... oh, and the same bright red as Cassie’s baby Micra, which has earned it the affectionate title of The Bus. It’s about to get its first major capacity test—transporting a spare filing cabinet to the vestry of Stow Maries church in Essex...

So what next? Well may you ask… we look forward to Cassie’s mum & dad joining us for Christmas; the next poetry-and-prose evening (Wassail!) is underway for 5 January, followed by a much-needed break (venue TBA); an exciting visit to our friends Ian & Pam in Miami is planned, all being well, post-Easter; and we're very much looking forward to returning to Sue & Graham's lovely cottage in Normandy next Summer. Then there are the parish accounts, three Chimes concerts, a training session for the Southwark curates…

We might be running round like headless chickens, but believe us - we're having a great time! Our love and best wishes for a healthy, happy and fulfilling 2002 - and may it bring you all you would wish yourselves.

With our love -

Selwyn & Cassie