Smith on sex, fatherhood and fame
“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.”