Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters
Christmas tree in Basel Marketplatz, December 2005


Dear friends

Well, we made it. Through another year; a move of house and of spiritual home, farewells and greetings, endings and beginnings. Suburban London to rural Norfolk: a journey.

As we composed our 2004 missive, we were about to make public our move from St Mary’s Beddington to The Wensum Group. It was a time of sadness and celebration, fear and anticipation and joy, all at once; and the next four months flew by, as we prepared. We visited the Norfolk parishes just a few days before last Christmas; in early February; and in early March (very snowy), before moving in on (naturally) April Fool’s Day. We chose paint colours and kitchen fittings (hooray!), met parishioners and clergy, planned services, bought a full set of vestments (ouch), measured rooms and windows, sent out address details, phoned all the utilities… and so it goes on. You’ll have been there yourselves at some time!

The year has, of course, been dominated by the leaving/arriving. Most moving, difficult, joyful and sad of all was our final Lent & Easter at Beddington: the dedication of the bells in their new frame, after years of fundraising; the Holy Week services, leading up to the joys of Easter Dawn and Easter Morning; the support of our wonderful friends Dorothy & Milton, who came to stay for Easter weekend, banished us from our kitchen and took care of us; the cards, gifts and affection from our friends and parishioners; the wedding that Selwyn took on the Easter Monday (our tenth wedding anniversary); the parish breakfast on Easter Sunday; and, finally, the concert, arranged carefully and secretively by a combination of St Mary’s and Chimes Musical Theatre. We laughed and cried our way through a wonderful occasion, concluding with the Irish Blessing (“may the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back”) led by Melanie’s lovely voice.

This photo shows most of Chimes Musical Theatre back at the Rectory after the concert on Easter Monday night, and words can’t express our feelings of gratitude for that wonderful evening – to all the members of Chimes and St Mary’s, but especially to Heather, Melanie and Pam for all their planning and subterfuge!

So we dried our eyes and travelled up to Norfolk just five days later, having seen loaded the most enormous removal van imaginable. We then had a further five days in our new home – madly unpacking boxes, wondering why we hadn’t got rid of half of it before leaving, and eating in our excellent new local, the Parson Woodforde (of course) – well, the new cooker hadn’t been delivered yet – what a pity.

Finally, we went to Ireland for a much-needed holiday; calling in on Dot & Milton (our saviours again!) in each direction, and spending a wonderful time in two self-catering cottages: Cleggan, as far West as it’s possible to get, and Kenmare, south-west. Our third visit to Ireland, as beautiful as ever.

And on our return, it was all systems go to get the house straight inside about three weeks before receiving our first visitors for the weekend of Selwyn’s licensing as priest-in-charge of the Wensum Group. We just managed it; pictures were on the walls! Bishop Graham of Norwich conducted the service; many of the Beddington contingent were there, and swelled the singing beautifully; joint bell-ringing between the two congregations; and Pat & Ian, Beddington churchwardens, officially handed Selwyn over to his new parishes.

(Selwyn was only priest-in-charge for 7 weeks before being officially appointed Rector on 1st July – apparently a record!)

Since that time, St Mary’s has appointed Selwyn’s successor: Revd Justine Middlemiss, whose first incumbency this will be after her curacy at St Margaret, Lee. By one of those coincidences, we know Justine and her husband Guy (also a pianist) from their days with Imperial Opera. Justine will be taking over at Beddington at the end of January 2006, and they’ll be much in our thoughts and prayers as they move into Bloxworth Close.

Returning to holidays for a moment, we had a wonderful time in the south of France in the summer. Not the beach bit - the mountains-and-vineyards bit. Gloriously hot, stunning scenery, a fabulous and eccentric house to stay in – perfect. Oh, and a fig tree in our garden and vineyard in the village (St Martin de l’Arçon, near Béziers in the Languedoc region). Perfect.

So what, apart from moving, have we been up to? Well, as you might imagine, the theatre and music have taken a bit of a back seat. Our last Chimes concert (apart from the farewell on Easter Monday) was November 2004, and we miss the Chimes performers very much indeed. However, we were delighted to welcome Liz, David, Camilla, Bruce and Hilary – Five’s Company – to stay with us when they performed a concert at the Auden Theatre, near Holt; and we finally got to perform again just a few days ago, when Leon Berger came to perform his highly successful Top Hats & Dropped Hats – the work of George Grossmith and Flanders & Swann – at Weston Longville church, raising £450 in aid of Cancer Research. Selwyn accompanied, and the F&S half featured interruptions by us both – making us realise how much we’d missed treading the boards. Watch this space – it won’t be so long next time…

We’ve managed to watch a few other folks doing the work, however – although again, not as often as we’d like. Our only visit to the flicks was to see the second Bridget Jones movie (not as good as the first) last New Year, with Zoë and Paul.

At the theatre, our last visits to Richmond Shakespeare Society – which we miss very much – were the excellent Plantagenets marathon in February, and our friend Michael Walters’ farewell musical evening before he retired back to his native Ireland. However, in the last few weeks we’ve finally got round to investigating Norwich theatre life, and are very taken by the Maddermarket – a similar setup to the Richmond Shakespeare Society, in that they have their own theatre and run on a repertory basis with nearly a show each month. We saw Romeo & Juliet (modern dress, enjoyable, with some maddening moments but some excellent work) in October, and Death of a Salesman (a first-class Willy Loman) in November. On the professional side, we loved Tomfoolery, with our favourite Kit & The Widow and Dillie Keane; a trip to Bury St Edmunds in July to see The Shakespeare Revue, very ably directed by our RSS friend Ben Horslen; and more recently, a visit to Norwich Theatre Royal (“the ugliest theatre in the country”) to see a really excellent Twelfth Night, with Matthew Kelly as Malvolio, and the improbably named Honeysuckle Weeks as a superb Viola.

Our old obsession, genealogy, has gradually reinstated itself; partly in doing work for other folks, and partly for ourselves. In recent weeks, Cassie’s been delighted to be in touch with John Edmonds, grandson of Nina, whose sister Minnie was Cassie’s maternal grandmother (are you keeping up?!) Nina was responsible, back in the 1970s, for Cassie’s love of genealogy, so it’s all her fault really. We’ve also been happy to welcome Marlene from Australia – one of the vast Skingley tree - during her visit to the UK in May.

We’ve been delighted to welcome many other visitors since our move: Dot & Milton, of course, and Cassie’s parents, Nick & Peggy; David Lloyd, a very talented artist from Selwyn’s previous incumbency in Essex, with his wife Deanna (David will hopefully be capturing the churches of the benefice in his artwork in the near future); Jean and Molly, again from Essex; Heather and Jack from Beddington. And, very specially, our American friends, Pat and Frieda – Cassie has been running Pat’s website (she’s a professional photographer) for the last couple of years, and it was a great joy to us to welcome them to Norfolk during their visit to Europe in May. There’s plenty of opportunity for more – just let us know when you’d like to call!

Believe it or not, Cassie’s had to earn a living amongst all this lot. The work for Hairnet (IT training for the over-50s) provided a financial cushion immediately before the move to Norfolk; and she has recently moved from their freelance register to being their licensed trainer for this part of Norfolk. A nice editorial in the EDP (Eastern Daily Press – our local newspaper) has produced several new clients in that line, and she’s much enjoying the work. In addition, the “decluttering” work (through her freelance persona, Working Order) has been continuing, with clients as far afield as Cambridge, Suffolk and Berkshire. Oh, and Switzerland. Yes, really… a pharmaceutical company in Basel (junction of France, Switzerland and Germany) wanted to run a “clear-up-day”, with a motivational talk to start the proceedings and somebody there to help out during the actual clearing… guess who? It was great fun, Basel is a beautiful place, the hotel was marvellous, and the work very enjoyable. More like that, please! There have been several websites to design this year, too, so one way and another there is enough to keep her challenged, entertained and gainfully employed!

We use our letter to commemorate some of those we’ve lost this year, and it seems to be a long list for 2005. Just ten days after his performance in our farewell concert, Les Cozens from Beddington – a lovely man and a very fine pianist - passed away. Cynthia Carss, much loved grande dame of South London theatre groups, lost her long fight against cancer; more recently, Heather Godley, also of Richmond Shakespeare Society. Jeff Wilson, whose marriage to Jackie had been conducted by Selwyn only a few years ago in Beddington, died very suddenly – and we were honoured to be asked to the funeral; Selwyn to conduct the service, and Cassie to sing the same song she’d sung at their wedding. Selwyn’s last remaining aunt, Eva Brown, died at the age of nearly 93. Dear Johnny Nicholson – Cassie’s father’s last remaining uncle – who we’d happily tracked down just a couple of years ago for our Nicholson family reunion. And finally, we only discovered a couple of days ago by chance that Bishop Hugh Montefiore, a fine priest who we’d had the privilege to meet when he conducted a confirmation service at Beddington a few years ago, passed away on the day of Selwyn’s licensing here in Norfolk.

May they rest in peace.

So what of our new spiritual home? The inhabitants of the five parishes and nine villages that make up the benefice have welcomed and supported us – and given us plenty to do. Events since our official arrival in May have included: a quiz night in September (which the Rector’s team set an honourable precedent by winning!) and a welcoming cheese & wine in May in Great Witchingham, an organ recital (July), ploughman’s lunch (August) and a Christmas Fair in Ringland, a Produce Show (September) and an Open Gardens day (June) in Swannington, the Summer Fair, Christmas Fair and school play in Great Witchingham Primary School, a Mawkins weekend (scarecrows to you) in Weston in September…

Then there was the Bluebell Walk – an anti-ring-road demonstration, when said road was possibly to come through the middle of our village, despite being ten miles outside the city – much to our relief, this proposal has now been dropped. And let’s not forget the Parson Woodforde Society – the supporters of Selwyn’s predecessor – who meet for a “frolic” each year, moving between Weston, Castle Cary (Somerset) and Oxford, being the Parson’s three main places of residence. A much enjoyed weekend, including their attendance at Harvest Evensong and a formal dinner in King’s Lynn – Cassie being chatted up by an octogenarian on each side…

Then there was a confirmation service in Ringland, the dedication of a new aumbry (for reservation of the Sacrament) in Weston Longville (attended by Paul Illingworth, Selwyn’s predecessor, in memory of whose wife the aumbry had been bought), eleven Harvest-tide events, two Remembrance Day services, All Souls – and now we’re into the Christmas round. Not to mention three services each Sunday in three different places! (Except on the third Sunday of each month, when there are four: 8:00 am, 9:15 am, 10:30 am and 6:00 pm.)

Cassie’s family continue well: Mum & Dad have enjoyed visits to Norfolk, and we’re looking forward to welcoming them, together with Bob & Marga and Dad’s cousin Fred, to share Christmas with us in our new home. Cassie’s sister Jenny still works herself much too hard over in Spain, but she and her partner Carl and two children, Jack and Samantha, seem well and happy – and the fact that Jenny has mastered using email is making our communication much easier!

The welcome from our new parishioners has been wonderful. There are too many to mention individually (we’d be bound to miss somebody out) but the support and help we’ve received across the benefice has been so much appreciated, and we are much enjoying preparations for our first Norfolk Christmas.

What was that? You’d like to see our new house? Well, we could always just say “you’ll have to come and visit”, but that would be mean! – so click here to find a new selection of photos on another part of our website...

We hope that your past year has been happy and rewarding, and that 2006 brings all that you would wish yourselves.

With our love –

Cassie & Selwyn