THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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VilNews will from time to time publish articles under the heading 'The Village Voice'. The articles will be written by a retired Englishman, David Holliday, who for the past fifteen years has lived with his wife Migle in the village Lapiai 30 km from Klaipeda. We think that you, dear reader, will come to appreciate David's many subtle tales and stories from his life out there – so far off the beaten track...
Wg Cdr David Holliday joined the British Royal Air Force in 1961. He trained as a pilot and his first operational tour from 1964 to 1968 was spent flying Victor nuclear bombers carrying the American Blue Steel stand-off missile. His Cold War targets were in the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine. In 1968 the British nuclear deterrent was handed over to the Royal Navy and the Blue Steel fleet was disbanded. After a tour as a flying instructor David returned to Victors, but this time in the Air-to Air refuelling role, again as an instructor. This was followed by a tour in Moscow as an assistant Air Attaché (74-77). In 1979 he was posted to France to be the Strike Command liaison officer with the French Air Defence Command. The next ten years was spent in staff appointments in Human Intelligence. David’s last tour (92-94) was as the first British Defence Attaché in Vilnius after Lithuania regained its independence. He retired in 1994 and remained in Lithuania with his wife Migle, who he married in 1993.
Around the castle hill
How We Found Lapiai
My life here in Lithuania revolves around my home in the country. To many it would be a bore, but for me it is the perfect life and I could wish for nothing better. This morning, as always, I walked the dogs around the valley and, as always, Blondie ran off into the woods. I stopped off by the river to see if the overnight rain had had any effect. It had, but not much and we need more. This spring of 1995 was abnormally hot and dry and they say that there has been nothing like it since records began. Farmers have been hard hit again this year and yields all round will be very low. There are still signs of beaver activity on the riverbank and there are several dams in our stretch of river, which runs for about a kilometre. Our neighbours have erected a fence in front of their cattle fodder to stop the beavers pinching it at night. It seems to have worked for there haven’t been any raids for the last few days. I want to put a sign up on the fence saying “Beavers! Food round the back of the fence”. But Migle says that it might not go down well with Povilas, because it might work and put our friendship in jeopardy!
I normally walk the dogs all around the valley, but at this time of year the grass is very high and I get soaked tramping through it. Tomorrow (or the next day) I will go round with the trimmer and cut a swathe through it. On the way back from the river I stop off at the alpinarium for a look. Actually it’s an enormous pile of rocks, which were pulled out when we excavated the pond last year. Some of them are nearly chest height and weigh several tonnes. Together they cover an area half the size of a tennis court. In England they would cost £100 each in the garden centres. Anyway, we call it an Alpinarium as we are working towards it. Migle has planted some flowers and shrubs and it is my job to weed and to water and it’s got to be done today! Yes dear. It’s going to be another exciting day and I can’t wait to get started. But first a cup of breakfast!
Before we go on, I’d better explain how I came to be here. My last appointment in the Service was as DA in Vilnius. That was from 1992-94 when the Russian troops were still here. I worked in the MOD in London and spent about a third of my time out here. I was single at the time and met Migle. She was wheeled in as the interpreter whenever a group of Englishmen appeared in Klaipeda. She had her own business and did it as a favour to one of her army friends here.
Migle and I married at the Registry Office in Ashford in front of the home crowd on New Year’s Eve 1993. I took early retirement in March 94 and made sure that we got married before I left, for reasons which you and I know, but which Migle remains blissfully unaware of! In the meantime we bought a three room flat in the centre of Klaipeda for £8,000 and had it refurbished and modernised for about another £2,500. The flat is comfortable and right in the centre of Klaipeda next to the old town. It overlooks the river Danes and between the river and us is a park with a decorative water fountain. All very comfortable, but not much to do in the winter.
We had an artist friend we met in town and from whom I used to buy the odd piece. One day in the summer of 1995 he invited us out to his country house about 30 km form Klaipeda in the village of Lapiai. It is a lovely situation on the side of a hill. The house was being built and the foundations were in place. Meanwhile, as is the way out here, he had built the outhouse first, so they could live there while the main house was being done. He has about a hectare of land (2.5 acres), just down the slope below the village school. It was a lovely day and we sat outside and chatted well into the night. In those days I had to communicate in Russian and that made it rather difficult for the locals who all wanted to lapse into Lithuanian. I remember during the course of the evening that Migle said that we were looking for a place in the country as well. We went home and thought no more about it.
A few weeks later in early summer, Migle had a phone call. It was Vytas our artist friend. He said that there was a small farm in the village, which had come up for sale. Did we want to have a look? Did we ever! We drove out again at the weekend and parked in his drive. Vytas explained that the farm was in the valley down the hill about a kilometre further on. It belonged to an old lady whose husband had died about three years ago and who wanted to sell up.
We walked down the hill and into the valley. At first we chatted in Russian so I could join in, but quickly changed to Lithuanian as Vytautas (Vytas for short), Eugenija his wife and Migle moved ahead slightly. The first farm at the bottom of the hill has a good position within a stone’s throw of the river. I knew it wasn’t the one for sale as it was too close to the hill. We followed the river around the bend and the next farm came into sight over the growing corn. I could see several out buildings, including the large barn, some beehives and the inevitable outside toilet painted “s” brown. Again, it looked attractive, but I didn’t really think it would be the one, so I didn’t fantasise too much. Sure enough, we kept on the little road and moved on round the corner and down another rise. And there in front of us about 300 m away in the distance was this beautiful sight. The house and farm buildings stood on a knoll in the centre. The river ran some 200 m to the right. Beyond the buildings were open fields and then the castle hill dating back to the 14th century. To the left more grassland before the ground began to rise up to the woods at the side of the valley. From where we stood the house was on the right and was painted pastel green. To the front and facing towards the river there was a rickety glass conservatory covered in ivy or vines. Standing a few yards from the verandah were two magnificent old spruces and perched on top of the furthest of them was the biggest stork’s nest you have ever seen! We walked closer along the lane, which led towards or past the house. All heads were turned to take in the unfolding view. Nobody wanted to stare, but everyone wanted to look. For it was certain sure that we were being watched.
But instead of turning up the track leading to the house, the three ahead continued past the house and turned right towards the river and left the house behind us. So, I must have been wrong. This wasn’t the farm. There must be another one beyond the Castle Hill and at the very end of the valley. I tried hard not to be disappointed, but I was. Desperately.
I followed a few paces behind Migle, Vytautas and Eugenija like a Russian-speaking leper. I could here them talking and discussing, but had no idea what they were saying. We arrived at the bend of the river. It is called the Zvelsa and at this point is about six to eight metres wide. It was mid-summer and the water was running low and slow. About a kilometre further on it joins the larger Minijos, which is one of the larger rivers flowing across eastern Lithuania.
Here we stopped for what seemed an age as they chatted and I began to move ahead, impatient to see what would lie round the next bend. But when I turned back, they were gone! I rushed back to the river and saw them a little way ahead and walking back the way we had come. I ran up to them and said in English “Migle, why are we going back?” She said, “This is the house. This is the one we are coming to see!” I said, “But why did we walk past it and down to the river?” She said, “Well, we just wanted to see the view from the river and get the feel of the place and see all the land that goes with it”.
I can’t explain how happy I felt then. It was a defining moment in my life. The first date, first solo and maiden century all rolled into one! Migle said, “You stay here and we’ll go in and talk to the old lady. If she knows you’re a foreigner the price will go through the roof!”
I went back to the bend in the river and sat down on a rock by the water and listened to the music of the river and the birds. They could talk for as long as they liked. I wasn’t going anywhere! This was where I was going to live!
July 1995: I wasn’t going anywhere! This was where I was going to live!
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