Michael Jennings hadn't seen the silver trophy he was awarded for swimming the English Channel in 1960 for over fifty years, that is until an eccentric Irishman happened to stumble across it in a charity shop in a small village in the Republic of Ireland.
A delightful young lady from Gloucester – this is not a limerick; although I can recall one ending in a ‘cluster’ – phoned me early September to tell me, mysteriously, to call a friend of hers in County Cork who had something of mine.
“This is Michael Jennings,” I said, introducing myself to the stranger on the other end of the line.
I could get no further before he excitedly went off on one in a high pitched, almost non understandable Irish brogue. “Faith and Begorrah, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, tis over joyous I am to hear ye dulcet tones,” he screamed. “Tis flat-out fluthered I’ll be tonight. I t’ought ye was dead!”
This was my first encounter with the mystery that is Dave Dineen – an amazing man and paraplegic, who I’m told, among other things, once came within a second of murdering his brother.
When Dave finally calmed down, he told me that he had a trophy of mine that he had paid €2 for in a charity shop in Kealkill near Cork a year previously, and for some time he had tried to find me.
The trophy he was referring to is a silver rose bowl that was presented to me in October 1960 in recognition of my English Channel swim from 1 August that year. It was a proud moment for me. At twenty-two years old, I was the first person to swim the Channel that decade and the first person to do so from Kent. They honoured me as the “Kent Swimmer of the Year”, which marked the start of a long and successful long-distance swimming career.
I then ended up getting married a couple of year later in 1962, at 24-years-too-young. At the time, all I wanted to do was swim and play water-polo, and although I do recall doing the washing up a few times, my wife and I sadly divorced in 1972. She took most of the spoils: the house, its contents, the wonga and even my cherished rose bowl. But I kept the cat – which is still stuffed in a glass case to this day, honest!
Anyway, after I spoke with Dave, he re-visited the charity shop in Kealkill where he had bought my trophy, but nobody there was able to shine any light as to how they acquired it, other than they’d had it for about a year.
So, Dave took it upon himself to do some delving to find out where it had been all these years.
He started with three interviews on local radio chat shows and even on one Irish national radio station that I linked up to from home. He also took the story to newspapers, all of whom gave it good coverage – but despite Dave’s efforts, we heard nothing back.
After admitting defeat, we accepted that we might never know what had happened to my trophy all those years, and so Dave posted it back to me, restoring it to its rightful owner, a whole fifty years since I had last seen it.
Then, about three weeks later, Dave received a call from a gentleman called Clive Seawright, who runs a private indoor swim teaching pool near Cork with his wife Jackie. Unbelievably, he told us that he had had the trophy on his sideboard for twenty years, where it was used for keys, pens and all sorts of bits and pieces - he said he even gave it a polish now and then. It transpired that it was Clive who took it to the charity shop in Kealkill after clearing things from his house.
Clive told us he thought he and his wife had acquired the trophy from a girlfriend of Jackie, called Jessica, who turned up at their house asking if, on leaving her husband, that they could take care of some boxes for her. But Jessica never returned.
After he told us this, Clive then took up the chase for clues to the history of the trophy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to trace Jessica and follow up on the many possibilities of where she might have got it from in the first place, and the mystery became, once again, just that.
After some time passed, Clive then casually brought up the situation with his sister, Grace, to see if she had any ideas. Clive’s mention of the trophy surprised Grace. She told him she had once worked with a lady called Roberta in Poole for ten years – my ex-wife – and had remained friends with her to this day, so knew of my trophy.
It turns out that in the late 70s, Roberta’s husband, Ray, had collected Roberta’s belongings from Kent, but didn’t recall seeing the trophy.
Evidently, Roberta had gone about disposing of a lot of the unwanted stuff when we divorced, and so when Clive’s mum had showed a particular liking for the trophy, it was given to her. She had it for about ten years until she died in 1986. Naturally, Clive travelled to England for his mother’s funeral and returned to Ireland with her possessions, including the trophy.
He says he put all the boxes into storage when he returned to Ireland, and it wasn’t until quite a few years later, when he and Jackie decided to move to a new house, that they discovered the trophy. They decided to keep it, and sat it on their sideboard for about twenty years until they had another clear out and it ended up in the charity shop.
I have since had it restored to its former glory, with a new plinth and mesh, and “te be sure, tis wondrous to behold!”