Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters
Our nativity scene in the Rectory, December 2004


Dear friends

It’s with some alarm that we find ourselves reviewing previous versions of this update, only to find that we can go back ten years. Yes, that’s right – it was at Christmas 1994 that Cassie sent shock-waves around the world by announcing that she was about to become the Rector’s wife. So this is the eleventh Christmas together, our eleventh Round Robin, our eleventh dedication of our Christmas crib (which is on the front of this year’s card) – a decade of ongoing burning-candle-both-ends… We say it every year, but 2004 really does seem to have excelled itself in over-commitment. Who cares – it’s been fun.

So where to begin? Well, as usual, on stage. This year we didn’t take part in any of Richmond Shakespeare Society’s productions (although we saw several of them), but found ourselves re-involved with Imperial Opera – through whom, those of you with long memories might remember, we met in the first place. Imperial celebrated its 25th anniversary with a concert in June, re-uniting many of the “old lags” with the present, younger generation, and we had a fine time joining them. Selwyn was confined to the pit (!) while Cassie found herself awarded the performance of her favourite solo, Send in the Clowns – if she also agreed to learn an obscure duet (in English!) from an extraordinary Russian opera called Cheryomushki. Actually, it was great fun singing this with our friend Ellis, playing the characters as Marlene and Boycie from Only Fools & Horses

Imperial stayed firmly in the frame, however. One word of caution: never host a committee meeting in your own house and then make the tactical error of leaving the committee to their discussions whilst you go out for a haircut. When you get back, you’re likely to find yourself directing a show. The Shakespeare Revue played 3 nights in London in November (the tiny New Arch Theatre, un-find-able under the arches at Waterloo) and 2 performances in Budleigh Salterton in December – was a huge challenge, enormous fun and a great success, and used an incredible amount of time and energy during the autumn. Cassie directed, Selwyn musically directed and accompanied. Ellis and Melanie from Chimes were part of the varied, talented team, together with Claire, Sarah, Alan and David, and they all came up trumps with superb performances. If only we hadn’t had so much else going on at the same time – like two Chimes concerts, a poetry evening and a 50th birthday…

Earlier in the year, Selwyn had provided the keyboard accompaniment for Ian Akhurst’s lovely production of Candleford (the other half of Lark Rise) with Sutton ADC in Carshalton. There was a concert with Leon & Sovra for the Manchester Gilbert & Sullivan Society; a springtime entertainment with Steve Chaytow, his two daughters and Cassie in Croydon Synagogue (we still think Sir should have worn his clerical collar together with the yarmulke he was required to borrow); and yet another rendition of our lecture-demonstration about life on the halls – That’ll go better second house – for a local townswomen’s guild.

Then, of course, there were the dear friends from Chimes, once more giving their time and talents to raise lots of money for charity. This year saw us entertaining the Sutton Deanery Synod with Forgive our foolish ways, a collection of music and words about the church and its people, raising money for the Sutton Furniture Project; Life upon the wicked stage, a fabulous celebration of the theatre and its luvvies, ranging from Vesta la giubba to I want to be a prima donna – whilst raising £300 for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People; and Topp of the Class, helping Westcott School (as requested by Cassie’s erstwhile boss and friend, Andrea) to celebrate their 150th anniversary and boosting funds for both the school and Jessie’s Fund (music therapy for children in hospitals) at the same time. In each case, we were treated to outstanding performances by many of our lovely performers, most of whom were taking time from their professional careers with Carl Rosa, Glyndebourne and the rest to do so. Seventeen years of Chimes and still going strong, and a source of great joy.

There were performances at church, too, continuing our fundraising – and more of that in a moment. We had great fun with another poetry & prose evening, in celebration of the British Isles, called This dear land – Reg’s final John o’ Gaunt speech, underscored with I vow to thee my country from The Planets, ensured no dry eye in the house; and two episodes of These you have loved, social evenings where the participants brought and shared favourite musical recordings, giving rise to some great discoveries.

Just occasionally, we go to watch others working! Professional shows haven’t featured quite so numerously as in previous years – Sweeney Todd at Covent Garden (not scary enough), Romeo & Juliet at the Globe in, as far as they could construct, original pronunciation (excellent), and Cassie’s visit with Dot & Milton (Selwyn opted out of this one!) the Queen musical in the West End – great fun being a teenager again! Oh, and we started the year with our adorable Kit & the Widow – and we’re about to finish it with them as well at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next week.

This year we’ve seen far more films than usual – six visits to the flicks might not sound much, but it beats our usual average of one per year! Lost in Translation (excellent), the second Harry Potter, Love Actually (sorry, Cassie’s got a crush on Hugh and Colin); the overlong but very worthwhile Big Fish, and the surprisingly moving Fifty first dates. And then, of course, the final Lord of the Rings on New Year’s Day - what on earth are we going to watch this coming New Year?

There were also concerts featuring some of our professional musician friends – we startled Stephen Brown by turning up unannounced to see him in a G&S concert in Worcester, and David Menezes took part in a superb performance of the little known oratorio The Darkest Hour.

Church fund-raising entertainments included our organist, Andrew Wilson, giving a fine concert on our Willis organ, and the members of our choir showing off other musical skills in Hands and Voices, and performing the Fauré Messe Basse for All Souls. There was a Chimes/church crossover in April, when the four soloists in the St Mary’s Messiah were Stephen, Joanna, Camilla and Leon – all of whom took part in Chimes concerts during the year. We also welcomed back the Albinoni String Orchestra for their biennial May Bank Holiday visit.

All this fun and entertainment originated from the need for serious fund-raising, and we’re delighted to report that at Harvest Thanksgiving the Rector was able to announce that our £100,000 loan from the Diocese, just ten years before, had been completely paid off. Not only that, but at the same time we’d managed the new lighting and rewiring of the church (completed, and dedicated by Bishop Nick, in February 2004), and the Tower & Bells Fund made spectacular progress – so much so that the work on the latter is under way as we write, and we hope that the re-dedication of the bells, refurbished in their new frame, will take place very early next year. An extraordinary reflection of the generosity and dedication of the parishioners and locals, and the culmination of – it’s that time frame again – ten years’ hard work.

As usual, most of our amateur theatrical viewing was done at Richmond Shakespeare Society, with the exception of an excellent Company, directed by the lovely Paul Kirkbright, from Barnes Richmond Operatic – Cassie had played Marta in their previous production, way back in (good grief) 1989; and a brief visit to Rutland took us to the lovely Tolethorpe Hall, a fantastic theatre where the performers are in the open but the audience are under cover! It’s a pity that She stoops to conquer is such a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing…

RSS, meantime, have given us a first-rate Richard II, a delightful (but sadly much rained-on) open-air Two Gentlemen of Verona, an excellent double-bill of An Englishman Abroad and In Extremis (Oscar Wilde visiting a palmist – a first rate teaming of Stephen Bentley and our dear and talented Pam Gower); and, a couple of nights ago, a bit of real nonsense in the spooky shape of The Ghost Train, by Arnold Ridley of Dad’s Army fame.

In amongst all that lot, there has been scant time for holidays or parties. Nonetheless, we managed a week in our old haunt, Castle Cary in Somerset, after Easter, and a wonderful few days in Rutland, which we fell in love with as a county; and our dose of la belle France this year was a one-day trip to Boulogne with Dot & Milton – a fantastic day, stocking up in the hypermarkets, wandering the old town in the sunshine, cafes and restaurants – a real delight.

So, no summer holiday? Well, we had to sort of hang around here – to prepare to be visited by the Tilletts! As Cassie has previously imposed Skingley and Nicholson reunions on the Rectory, it was only fair that Selwyn should get his own back. Admittedly, our original plans for 75 people from all over the world were gradually and disappointingly reduced to about two dozen from around this country – but those who attended had a spectacular and wonderful day, and much fun was had by all. Not to mention lots more photographs exchanged. Genealogy in all its forms still raises its head periodically, and the Skingley, Nicholson, Godward & Vanderhoven sides of Cassie’s family continue to grow. It’s one of those I’ve created a monster feelings – it keeps coming back to haunt us… but at least it continues in the form of contact with some excellent friends from all over the globe, only linked through some agricultural labourer living 300 years ago!

We mentioned parties… last year being Cassie’s 40th, and a secret guest-list from all corners of her life being summoned to the church centre, she had to retaliate in kind for Selwyn’s big five-o. The Chimes kids did their stuff as wonderfully as ever, accompanied (mostly at sight) by Pam Akhurst so that birthday-boy could stay in his seat; old Peterhouse colleagues and clergy crawled out of the woodwork, and he survived that particular hurdle with much fun and minimal trauma…

Believe it or not, there’s a living to be earned among this lot. Cassie’s work at Epsom & Ewell Council has sustained and challenged her between varying amounts of freelancing work for five years now, but the time has come to move on and organise somebody else. Happily, a new source of freelance work – the wonderfully-named Hairnet, which provides IT training all over the country for the over-50s – has meant that there’s enough work promised in the next few months to allow this move to take place – and she leaves EEBC just before Christmas. Not without sadness – she’ll miss many lovely people, not least her boss Pat, who has been a tower of strength over those years.

However, on to new projects: the freelance organising work (Working Order - a combination of IT trainer and House Doctor) is taking off in a big way right now. She’s just been featured by the new Metro magazine – which circulates to all the London commuters – in a (she’s told) full page article on office organisation in January. Watch that space! Then there’s the advent of a group to represent and advertise the fairly new industry of “clutter control” in the UK – APDO-UK (the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers) which Cassie is an inaugural member of, and designs their website. Other websites are moving into the portfolio – this is an area of much enjoyable work and new learning – and has also been responsible for a new long-distance relationship (conducted by email) with an American photographer, Pat Parnow, whose correspondence has been a source of a great deal of fun and friendship.

There are always some sad farewells to be said. This year was especially difficult for our church community, with the gentle giant Stewart Kimber leaving us, after a brave fight against cancer, on his 66th birthday – and leaving an equally giant hole in our lives; we celebrated the long life of Selwyn’s predecessor-but-one at St Mary’s, John Read, who had meant much to so many folks here; and young Jamie Adams, who died at the age of 11, severely disabled, unable to speak, but joyful, determined and much loved. A Ghanaian child’s funeral was a wonderful event to be present at. RSS lost dear Sheila Camfield, a wonderful woman and professional actress, who had worked with Cassie in Goldilocks and in As You Like It; and also John Beardmore, probably its longest-standing member (joined in the 1930s). We much miss the lovely Joan, wife of Ben Stillwell, one of Selwyn’s recently-discovered, much-loved Tillett relations. May they rest in peace.

And speaking of farewells… we had to wait until today to finish this letter, so we’d know for sure that we could officially include this particular newsflash. As mentioned above, several major financial projects at St Mary’s have this year been concluded, and we always knew that to an extent, these projects shaped our “job” here. Come Easter 2005, Selwyn will have been here for twelve years; and it’s at that point that we will be bidding farewell to South London, and moving to rural Norfolk.

We’ve been looking around at parishes for some months now, with possibilities in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, North Wales, Hampshire and just up the road in Croydon. On 26th November we made our way up to the wilds of Norfolk, for Selwyn to be interviewed by the Bishop of (King’s) Lynn and various representatives of the parishes of the Wensum Group. Five parishes, eight villages, nine churches (of which two are technically redundant), a total population of about 1,300, less than 10 miles north-west of Norwich. A beautiful area, a fascinating job, a completely eccentric (1970s-built) rectory; all this will be ours! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and were thrilled when Bishop James telephoned Selwyn that same evening to offer him the post. By the time you receive this, the parishes (those we’re leaving and those we’re going to) will have been informed, and preparations begun for us to leave St Mary’s immediately after Easter, starting work in Norfolk in the middle of May – the licensing (he’s to be priest-in-charge initially) being on Friday 13th May, his first Sunday in post being Pentecost. Given that we knew about the appointment for the first Sunday in Advent, will tell the parish on the last Sunday in Advent, and will leave after Easter, it all has a certain liturgical tidiness about it…

The parishes were very forthcoming about their need for some energy, enthusiasm, care, re-ordering and new life. Many of the things that we have been able to provide at St Mary's (things which started out as necessary fund-raisers but have grown a life of their own) they have seized on as being ideal, interesting and fun; and they certainly need to grow a 'community' among the congregations and among the villages.

The full list of villages is Alderford, Attlebridge, Great Witchingham, Lenwade, Morton-on-the-Hill, Ringland, Swannington - and we’ll live in Weston Longville, the village of Parson Woodforde (the pub, named after him, is five seconds’ walk opposite the Rectory). Whilst living in a small tranquil village (no, we won’t miss Croydon!) Norwich is a city which will cater for our theatrical, musical and business needs; and the six-bedroomed house (yes, really) will be much fun to work with.

Clearly we leave St Mary’s with great sadness – we have made so many good friends, and a large part of us remains in suburban Surrey. However, the church in Beddington Park is, after many years’ financial struggle, ready to move into a new phase, and it’s right that a new priest should take them there. In our own lives we know it’s time for new projects and plans and people, and we’re both looking forward to it all enormously.

So expect a mailing some time during Lent with our new contact details. Pray for us during a time of great change and challenge, and make plans to come and visit us in Norfolk! With all those bedrooms there’ll be permanent open house; consider yourselves invited any time – just call and say you’re coming …

With our love as ever –

Cassie & Selwyn