Cassie & Selwyn Tillett: Christmas Letters
Collegiale Saint-Pierre, de Dorat, Limousin - August 2008


Dear friends

Sailing even closer to the wind than ever, we sit to create this just one day before the last posting date (OK, being mean – second class stamps) for Christmas!!

It’s been a year of big projects. The greatest of these was Cassie’s Parents Move to Norfolk Project (of which more in a moment). In the benefice, there was the Great Witchingham Electric Heat and Light Project (now installed for the first time, and dedicated by the Bishop for Advent); there was the Attlebridge Roof Project (nearing completion as we write, hopefully open in April 2009). On stage, we are now preparing for the next thing: the Cassie Gets Back On Stage Project. Keep reading!

Stage performances this year have been rather less frequent than usual. However, we managed a poetry evening in January as a benefice fund-raiser, which was great fun – Wassail! was based on the programme we’d used a few years ago in Beddington. No Chimes performances this year (having admitted reluctantly that it’s much too far to ask our friends to travel for one-night-only performances). However, we’ve been thrilled to start working with Rachel & Martyn, two very talented local singers, in the new incarnation Vocal Score (or, as we were using as a working title, Vamp till ready…)

We might not have performed much ourselves, but we’ve seen plenty of others working hard. Three trips down memory lane for Cassie. One took her to see Imperial Opera doing a wonderful revue (Flash Bang Wallop); then a chance remark on Facebook led to the first meeting in 24 years with Richard, fellow student at Bretton Hall, who was working in professional rep at Sheringham in the excellent Bouncers (and also the extraordinarily silly Snakes & Ladders); and she was thrilled to meet up with friends of even longer ago than that at a production of The Tempest in Walthamstow, performed by many of her fellow actors from the group she belonged to in her ‘teens. (Hardly anybody recognised her.) We were also fortunate enough to see the wonderful Willard White at the Norwich Theatre Royal performing his tribute to the late, great Paul Robeson. Not much at the flicks this year, but we hugely enjoyed (for totally different reasons, obviously) the film of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and the insanely camp, nonsensical, feelgood Mamma Mia!

Then there was the Sewell Barn. We’d seen several shows last year, and much enjoyed them; Selwyn did a few rehearsals and performances in the prompt-chair for their excellent production of Kindertransport in May. Then, more recently, a show came up that Cassie finally summoned the courage to audition for. Much to her amazement, she was cast: so next April & May will see her as the disillusioned, middle-aged, alcoholic old reprobate Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. A huge, challenging part (what do you mean, it’s type-casting?!), and not one that she’ll necessarily encourage too many parishioners to come and see! Selwyn has already been warned to keep a low profile once rehearsals begin in February…

We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy some more delightful holidays. After our regular Bolton crash-out in January with Dot & Milton, we then took a week in a very pretty part of Herefordshire as our post-Easter break. (This was the time, by the way, where it snowed all over the daffodils – and the Rector - on Easter Sunday.) We took a lovely self-catering cottage in the superbly-named Weobley, which was much enjoyed.

Summer took us back to France, and this time we took our wanders a little further East. A long oval route took in a lot of the top half of the country: from Calais to Champagne to Burgundy to Limousin to Normandy and back to Calais. Two lovely cottages, especially the one in the beautiful Limousin area, and some superb B&B stays, mostly courtesy of the excellent Alastair Sawday recommendations.

Back at home, we were happy, as always, to welcome an assortment of friends and family to that giant B&B known as The Rectory. Dot & Milton came to us during Holy Week (and are about to return for New Year!); Bob & Margie, Beryl (complete with Bertie the Staffordshire) – and a whole load of family.

Jenny, Cassie’s sister, arrived in May with her two children, and a fabulous weekend with the cousins (party in Walthamstow followed by house party in Norfolk – topped off with a visit to the Dinosaur Park) was followed by the rest of their stay here. Bowling, Bewilderwood and the funfair… and going on a Big Ride was something that Cassie has sworn never to do again…

Cousin Peta and her husband John came to visit in November – mainly to see Nick & Peggy in their new bungalow – and managed to choose the snowiest weekend of the year. We just made it back from Aylsham to Weston Longville after dinner – by driving at about 15mph all the way…

So on that topic, what about Cassie’s Parents’ Big Move? Early in 2008, we began the hunt for a suitable bungalow – needed a small town or large village, a short distance from us but not too far – and we found it. In a mad flurry of April activity, their maisonette in Walthamstow was sold (remarkably, almost as soon as it went on the market), and we found them a truly lovely place in the market town of Aylsham, about 12 miles north-east of us. The (not insubstantial) difference between sale and purchase prices funded, almost exactly, the complete redecorating (and new kitchen, bathroom, heating and the rest) of the new place – and we’re all thrilled with the result. After about seven weeks of living in the Rectory while the work was done, they moved in at the end of October, and are now getting used to the quiet of a Norfolk life!

Speaking of Norfolk life, how about the churches and villages? Well, as mentioned above, a couple of the churches are now somewhat warmer and dryer than they were. The usual round of fundraising – the mainstay of the life of the C of E – continues, with an Open Gardens day, assorted sales and coffee mornings, the splendid Taverham Brass Band, and the Greshams School Choir all contributing. Selwyn took on the mantle of Rural Dean in February (more responsibility and work, but no extra help or money!) He does it for the kudos.

The music in church has seen some important developments this year. We have started to get together a choir from several parts of the benefice, which means that we’ve been able to tackle the occasional communion motet or provide items during a wedding service. Better still, our lovely organist at Weston, Dick, has composed a delightful setting for the Eucharist – A Small Mass for Small Churches – and two of the group of churches are now making regular use of some parts of it. Just in time for Christmas, we’ve acquired enough red robes from another church for us all to wear (Selwyn has observed that we will look like a bunch of gerberas).

Something rather important has happened in the village, too. We were dismayed when the Parson Woodforde Pub – right over the road from the Rectory – was taken over by new owners, who turned out to be, shall we say, a disappointment. We were totally traumatised when the pub shut altogether, and were terrified that we would lose our hostelry – the only facility in this village, apart from the church and the village hall! However, in July – just before we went on holiday – suddenly the lovely Sean, with his equally lovely chef Ryan, and totally gorgeous wife Alina, appeared on the scene. Since then, they’ve been making a great job of getting the Parson its well-deserved reputation back for delicious food and friendly service. [Cassie has been contributing a little in the way of leaflet design for upcoming events, and Vocal Score (mentioned above) performed together for the first time in an evening of show songs. Well, we have a certain vested interest in ensuring that the place stays open!]

Another particularly memorable occasion this year was the tri-annual visit of the Parson Woodforde Society. Dear James Woodforde was Selwyn’s predecessor here in Weston at the end of the 18th century, and for those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is modestly famous for his diary. Much is devoted to the minutiae of everyday life – his meals, his domestic difficulties, problems with his housekeeping niece and the “pigges” that got drunk – but throughout, it’s a wonderful record of a devout man in a rural parish, and a fascinating social document.

As the Society was here three years ago, also at Harvest, Selwyn was hunting for something new on which to preach for their visit on Harvest Sunday. He came across an excellent sermon about Parson Woodforde on the Internet, and contacted the writer: Revd Keith Grogg, a Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina. Asking for permission to use his words, Selwyn then mentioned casually that it would be wonderful if there was the remotest possibility of Keith coming to preach it himself.

The long and the short of it is that Keith and his wife Vivian came to Norfolk for the weekend (as you do), getting out of the USA on the last plane before the hurricane, spending (as you might say) a whirlwind weekend with us, meeting the parish and the Society, and of course preaching. Vivian also happens to be an excellent organist, so she played the final voluntary. We dropped them off on the Sunday evening with friends who were driving them to Bedford that night - before they went back to the States!

Out of this extraordinary bit of serendipity we have not only made two wonderful new friends, but Cassie has also found yet another New Project. As you probably know, she’s a keen photographer, and has been for most of her life, since the original Kodak Instamatic in about 1971. The fabulous new digital SLR, with extra zoom lens, bought for her by her lovely parents as a thank you for the work on their move, has been put to very good use on occasions like the Groggs’ visit.

Looking for a way to assemble the resulting photographs that was just a little special, she has found Blurb – a USA based company that produces excellent hardbacked books from your own photographs and designs, with or without text. The photographs of the Groggs’ visit were duly compiled into a very reasonably priced and high quality book; Keith & Vivian were thrilled with it (actually, the answerphone and email were vibrating with superlatives); and since then, there have been volumes for a wedding, a baptism, a fifth birthday party – and there are a few as Christmas gifts…

So in 2009, the Next Big Project is hopefully to make this combination of photographic skills and book compilation into a Commercial Venture. This is in addition, by the way, to the website design, IT training and decluttering (all of which are going very well, with regular and one-off clients in all three areas). It’s going to be another busy year!

Oh, and as if there wasn’t enough to do… Cassie has now found herself as Treasurer to the local fund-raising branch of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It’s long been a favourite charity of ours – several past Chimes concerts were performed in their support – and she’s now enjoying working with Simon and his hearing dog Foggy and other supporters in this area.

One thing hasn’t had a mention so far – what about the running-and-fitness? Well, just like this time last year – presently crocked! Last year was interesting. Having started it unable to run (due to a tendon injury on the right ankle), she not only got back to running, kept the weight off that had been lost, ran while on holiday in France; but also managed two PBs (personal bests): running 5 km in 31:45 at the Wroxham 5K in August (previous best being over 34 minutes); and running a sub-10 minute mile (having started at about a 13 minute mile). Thrilled to bits with both – although by real running standards, both are pretty tame!

And then, once again, problems. At the end of September, many friends and family were once again kind enough to sponsor her for Cancer Research (to the tune of £550 plus Gift Aid) – this time for 10 km. However, the start of The Great Moving Project, coupled with (happily) lots of work, made the training schedule a bit tricky, and the race was run – but without sufficient training. The result was not only two very large and painful blisters (one on each big toe), but – more of a problem – a subsequent bout of plantar fasciitis (problems with the muscle under the foot leading to heel pain). In other words, an over-tight Achilles and too much pressure on the heel.

So, once again, she’s off the road. Totally boring, very frustrating. However, such is the addiction to running that (all being well) it won’t be too long before, once again, she is at least doing the run down to Morton Hall and back on a regular basis – and poor Kim gets her running partner back for going out safely on dark winter evenings! And while (not surprisingly) a little weight has gone back on, it’s a relief to report that it’s not too much. In previous attempts, the 20lb lost would have all gone back on, and more; this time, a gain of about five of those pounds she can handle. And with two 2008 PBs, she’s desperate to get back to it in 2009.

As you can see, it’s been a very happy year. However, as always we’ve lost some important people: so requiescant in pace Bryan Colombo (one of Selwyn’s last remaining cousins), Martin Southgate (who we were delighted to meet as part of the great Skingley reunion that we hosted in 1999), and particularly Dick Williams – who passed away at the age of 91 in 2007, but I only found out at Christmas, and was Cassie’s original inspiration and teacher in stagecraft. For all that they have been to us, we thank them.

So what’s on the menu next? Well, as mentioned above, there’s the New Photo Book Project, the Continuing Decluttering Profession, the Return to Running, and the Sad Old Alcoholic on Stage. Then there’s the hope that one day Selwyn may get a little more ordained help in the parishes, the re-opening of Attlebridge Church, the plans for two concerts with friends old and new (watch this space), the likelihood of a visit to Brussels on the Eurostar for our post-Christmas break – and a visit from Jenny, Carl, Jack and Samantha in January, to see Nick & Peggy’s new bungalow and to celebrate Jenny & Carl’s joint birthday weekend.

God willing, we’ll have the energy, enthusiasm and inspiration (which is all we ever pray for!) to make the best of all these. May the same be true for you, especially in the difficult times that we’re all facing in one way or another; and may 2009 bring you all you would wish yourselves.

As the Parson Woodforde Society prays as grace before meals:

Give us a good digestion, Lord
And also something to digest
But when or how that something comes
We leave to Thee who knoweth best.

Give us a sense of humour, Lord
Give us the power to see a joke
To get some happiness from Life
And pass it on to other folk.

With our love as always –

Cassie & Selwyn