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Swanning Around!

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

The phone rang. "Hi! It's Jeff. I'm in Yarmouth. We've moored by a pub."

It was the summer of 1976. That legendary long, hot summer. Full of memories. All those usually wet and seeping rock climbs in north Wales as dry as a bone and therefore so much easier than normal. Some great days were had roped up with Jeff or Pete, or sometimes both. That scorched surface at The Oval with not a hint of green visible when Whispering Death trapped Bob Willis LBW for a duck and brought the fifth test to a close, to end with 6 for 57 to add to his 8 for 92 from England's first innings. Great Yarmouth's sea front with its lines of Lorraines and Lindas from London or Linwood looking like lobsters with their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh because, in the further words of Eric Idle's Mr. Smoke-Too-Much, they, "overdid it on the first day."

Jeff was a university mate. We sat next to each other through the seemingly endless ennui of lectures on enzyme inhibition, the biosynthesis of stercobilinogen and the digestive niceties of ruminants whilst simultaneously planning the coming weekend's activity on the crags. He and some of his former schoolmates from Essex had hired a boat on the Broads and had made it down the River Bure to Great Yarmouth. I agreed to meet him in the aforementioned pub – the White Swan.

In existence since at least 1822 when Pigot's directory informs us that B. Munford is running it, the White Swan could be found against the northern part of the town's mediaeval wall, right by the northwest tower. What do you mean that you didn't know Great Yarmouth had a town wall? It just happens to be the country's second most complete example, dating from 1261.

Jeff and his four mates had moored roughly where the three folks are stood together on the bank but, as arranged, were already ensconced in the pub when I parked Dad's little Viva van in the car park.

A century earlier and the vessels moored were there for work, not for pleasure.

The town's Northwest Tower with the White Swan on the right. c1880

The image below is taken from a similar viewpoint a hundred and forty years later years later. Not too much has changed. The tower still stands although the road has moved to the other side of the pub which survived a recommendation for demolition to facilitate this. There has been some some flood protection added and seemingly it was deemed necessary that a massive Magistrates Court was required to dish out punishments to the local inhabitants as the original was far too small to cope with all of the town's miscreants.

Having made it to the sin city of the east the Essex holidaymakers wished to swan around and sample the delights of its seafront, so the six of us piled into the van – you could do that in those days – and I piloted it to the Barking Smack from where they could enjoy all the fun of the seaside. After another pint, of course.

The previous day had been a long one for me. From somewhere Dad had acquired tickets for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which included the return rail journey, and so at about 5am I was sitting on a chartered train with him and Mum as it pulled out of Yarmouth Vauxhall. A day walking around Scotland's capital, an evening watching the tattoo in the castle and the return train journey saw me getting into bed, somewhat knackered, at about 3am that morning. So around 10pm I left Jeff and his friends to wend their way back to their vessel via as many other hostelries as they wished, admiring all the, as The Sun of the times would have had it, luscious Lorraines and luvlee Lindas that they passed on their way.

So I headed home to the comfort of my bed and some much-needed sleep. Or that's what I thought. I parked outside the house, got out of the van and turned the key in the front door. Or more accurately tried to turn the key. It just wouldn't turn. I knocked. No response. I knocked again. Still no response. I had a third go, louder this time. Same result. In spite of making sufficient noise to wake Lazarus my folks continued with their sleep of the just, even though they'd contrived somehow to have locked me out. There was nothing else to do but spend an uncomfortable night in the van. Uncomfortable it was too, and surprisingly cold for one in that legendary long, hot summer of 1976.

Jeff and I were reunited a couple of months after his boating break. Once more we'd plan the coming weekend's activities whilst trying to avoid concentrating too hard on the differences between 3' and 5' terminals or the role of cAMP in lipid metabolism. But those days are now long gone. As so often happens Jeff and I lost touch with each other as our lives took different paths. I'm not totally certain but I believe he went on to become a bigwig in Big Pharma. I am totally certain that I didn't. That sort of life wasn't for me.

That wasn't my only experience of the White Swan. I did have another, albeit very brief, visit a few years later. Playing darts for the much-missed Highlands I'd been drawn against an opponent from the White Swan in the town's knockout singles competition. The White Swan was the darting pub in the town's Norwich Brewery darts league at the time with two very high-flying teams. It didn't take me too long to throw a total of around twenty-five darts, buy the victor a drink, quaff what was left of my diet cola and slink back to the Highlands' more familiar oche having been well and truly thrashed in my two legs to nil defeat.

Having survived damage by the Luftwaffe in WWII, and continuing to serve for more than another six decades after that 1953 recommendation of demolition, the White Swan is a pub no more. The winter 2018 edition of CAMRA's Norfolk Nips informed me that the pub had been sold with rumours that it was to be converted into a wet fish shop and restaurant. That turned out to be the case. Painted black with a white swan emblem it became home to a fishmonger and a seafood restaurant.

Former White Swan in 2019. © Google 2021

The photographs by Evelyn Simak and Tony Bacon are copyright and are reused under this license.

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