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Diamonds at the Lost and Found: Satisfying memoir about a sassy Scouser

Sarah Aspinall’s memoir of childhood with her social-climbing mother is engrossing

Diamonds at the Lost and Found
Diamonds at the Lost and Found
Author: Sarah Aspinall
ISBN-13: 978-0008375164
Publisher: 4th Estate
Guideline Price: £14.99

The quest for power of one sort or another dominates human existence and it’s probably why we long for superpowers, something extra-human and unbeatable. But of the merely human powers there is none more potent than that of parental influence: it insinuates itself before it can be rebelled against and it cannot be undone.

When British film-maker Sarah Aspinall was born in 1957, she was immediately and forcefully under the influence of her good-time girl mother, Audrey, who lived a technicolour life driven by the conviction that she should’ve been a contender both in life and love.

Audrey came up poor in 1930s Irish Liverpool but her winsome looks and natural gifts as an entertainer made her the darling of the women of her family. Doted upon and much primped, it wasn’t until her ne’er-do-well father decided to harness her charm by making her a bookie’s runner that Audrey realised there was no future for her in Liverpool.

Fortuitously, wartime evacuation to Southport severed her ties with her father and, now living in more middle-class surroundings and fuelled by a constant diet of Hollywood movies, her ambitions grew. Back then marriage was the only way for an undereducated working-class girl to slip her class ties, and Audrey was as determined to do this as a Bennet sister. She was never fated to be an arm ornament, and had as many stories as Scheherazade, a vivacious personality and a sure sense of style.


Her storytelling ability was her principal skill and there wasn’t a man, or indeed a woman or child, she couldn’t beguile with her true tales of the improbable. With a sort of sassy Scouse indefatigability, she could worm her way past any door keeper or doubter and she devoted all her waking hours to her craft.

Brief dalliance

Audrey’s brief dalliance with Sarah’s father, Neil, when she’d set her cap for a much wealthier man, resulted in pregnancy and a hasty marriage. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that Neil has a terminal illness and Audrey now had responsibility for her ailing mother, her dying husband and her little girl.

This makes no household slave of Audrey, though. Instead she becomes the Hedda Hopper of Southport by writing a social column for the weekly newspaper, a column that gains her entry to all the social occasions that would otherwise be beyond the velvet rope for her.

This sets the determined Audrey on her way but her past as a bookie’s runner isn’t completely forgotten and she has a sideline in setting up betting shops throughout the region. She buys a large house, moves her family in, and is tolerated as an arriviste by the great and good of Southport until they catch wind that she dabbles in supplying girls for dates and house parties. In the months following Sarah’s father’s death, Southport begins to shun Audrey, but the widow is back on the hunt for love and soon she and her little daughter set out across America, New Zealand, and Malaysia to find it.

Audrey is a puzzle that Sarah Aspinall spent her childhood and youth trying to solve – to patch together the anecdotes, prise information from other people, and construct a coherent whole. But Sarah is as much in thrall to her fabulous mother as everyone else. As a rebellious, chronically truanting teen, she is revolted when catching glimpses of her mother in herself yet, having been Audrey’s sidekick and some-time procurer as a child (she’d chat up men in hotel bars for her mother), she cannot turn her back on her completely.

Storytelling gift

Now, from the retrospect of adulthood, Aspinall sees that there are many ways to rear a child and that her mother’s story-spinning, adventuring and permissiveness set Sarah on the path to becoming a storyteller herself. And Aspinall’s wealth of narrative gifts are on display throughout this engrossing memoir.

On the spider’s web of fragile – and fragmented – childhood memories and half-understood snatches of conversation, Aspinall brings her late mother to life again, hair in ringlets and frothed in lace in the Liverpool Orange Order parade, or dressed as a feathered showgirl for a fancy dress party, or chatting up Clark Gable with outrageous insouciance on his sole visit to Southport, or crying bitterly on a cruise ship when thwarted in love.

It all ends happily though, both for Audrey and Sarah, and love does indeed conquer all, making this beautifully written – if dowdily titled book – an altogether satisfying and memorable read.