Smith on sex, fa­ther­hood and fame

Sunday Times - - Insight Wilbur Smith -

“We [stu­dents at Rhodes Univer­sity in the 1950s] didn’t have to con­tend with HIV and AIDS like to­day, but there was the age-old worry of get­ting a girl preg­nant. We were very ner­vous about our con­tra­cep­tives. The girl would say: ‘It’s OK, I’ve just had my pe­riod’, or some­thing along those lines, and peace of mind would be re­stored. Some­times we would take the con­doms and wash them to save money. We’d put tal­cum pow­der on them to dry them out. Some of them we used three or four times, some half a dozen times. We’d blow them up and put them to our ears to check they weren’t leak­ing. This is not a means of us­ing con­tra­cep­tives I’m rec­om­mend­ing in any way! Even re­call­ing our ex­ploits as I’m do­ing now brings the colour to my cheeks at how reck­less and dis­re­spect­ful we were, but back then, needs must.” “When my first child was born, my fa­ther took me aside. He had some im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to im­part, the sort of ad­vice you didn’t get from ma­tron.

‘My boy,’ he told me. ‘They’re go­ing to bring that baby back from the hos­pi­tal any day now. When they do, wait for it to soil its nappy. Then con­fi­dently an­nounce to your wife: Stand back! This is my child as well! Then, undo the baby’s nappy and stick the safety pin into the baby’s bot­tom. The baby will squeal and your wife will never let you near a dirty nappy again!’

He was be­ing to­tally se­ri­ous.

In the end, I didn’t take Dad’s ad­vice, but I had some sym­pa­thy with his view of a man’s role in so­ci­ety. My fa­ther never bathed me, he never fed me, and he never changed my nappy.” “On a flight from New York to Lon­don, af­ter a fish­ing trip in Alaska, I had a proof copy of my lat­est book and was go­ing through it cor­rect­ing ty­pos, when the chap sit­ting next to me leaned over.

‘I see you’re read­ing Wil­bur Smith,’ he said. I nod­ded.

‘Tell me hon­estly, what do you think of him as a writer?’ I feigned deep thought for a mo­ment and then said, ‘Well, I think he’s a fine writer. I’d place him along­side Hem­ing­way and John Stein­beck.’ My neigh­bour warmed vis­i­bly and leaned in closer. ‘I know him,’ he beamed. ‘I know Wil­bur Smith . . . he’s a close friend of mine.’

‘No, re­ally!’ I said, never hav­ing met this gen­tle­man be­fore. ‘Yes,’ he went on. ‘And I’ll tell you some­thing else. You know the char­ac­ter of Sean Court­ney, the hero of When the Lion Feeds?’

I played along. ‘Do I know him? Of course, he’s one of my favourites.’

‘Well,’ said my new­found friend, ‘Wil­bur based him on my life!’

‘No!’ I said, with just the right amount of in­credulity. ‘Yes,’ said the man. ‘I’ll tell you what, if you give me your card, I’ll go to Wil­bur and get him to send you a signed photograph of him­self. We’re so close, there’s noth­ing he wouldn’t do for me.’

So I gave him my busi­ness card, which he pock­eted with­out a glance. I haven’t heard from him since.”

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