Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 19, 2008

Bad Hair Days (2007), by Pamela Bone

Bad Hair Days is an uplifting book. I read it en route to the History Teachers’ Conference in Brisbane and when I finished it, I gave it away, wanting to share the insights and to have someone else to talk it over with. “Oh, bad hair days,” said one colleague from interstate, “I’ve had those”, and so I insisted that the recipient be from Melbourne. “Ah yes, Pamela Bone, she was a wonderful journalist,” said a fellow reader of The Age, and she thanked me again, thoughtfully, when I saw her again the following day.

Pamela Bone was an Age columnist. She wrote headers too, and was sometimes a sub-editor as well. She wrote wise, strong, passionate pieces about humanitarian and social issues; she was sometimes left-wing but never loony left – she was a humanist, but never cynical or sour. I missed reading her work before I read this book; I miss it doubly now.

She got a horrible kind of hopeless cancer, and she did the treatment knowing that it could only buy a little time. Sadly, she did not live long after finishing this book. In it, she talks about her career, her love of her work, how she stumbled into journalism as today in a ‘professional age’ she never could. She wanted to write because it changed things: people did donate because of what she wrote about Darfur. It irked her that people tend to donate instead of seeking permanent solutions, and that there are so many corrupt post-colonial leaders in Africa, blaming everyone except themselves for the misery inflicted on their countrymen. She believed passionately in the fundamental goodness of man and she wanted an end to the corruption, cruelty and institutionalised greed that she knew about at first hand. She was no Pollyanna, but she believed things could be better. I always liked that.

When George W Bush went to war in Iraq, Pamela Bone supported it and copped a lot of flak. She explains again in this book how, now knowing the human cost of this war, she would not have supported it, but how then she had thought it would be a good thing to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. She believed that the ‘good’ nations of the world should not tolerate evil leaders preying on their own people. She would have raged against Robert Mugabe, for sure.

She liked Tony Blair. It was he, she said, who persuaded Bill Clinton to intervene in Kosovo, and he had done a lot of good things in the world. She listed many of them, and I was surprised. She says that the Brits should have been very proud of him, but instead they hounded him from office over Iraq. Now they have Gordon Brown and the world seems a shabbier place, notwithstanding Blair’s tiresome ‘spin’. Behind the PR machine, she says, there was a good and honest man trying to make the world a better place, appointing Mo Mowlam to forge a peace process in Ireland for example. (And she was another good woman lost to cancer).

Pamela did not ask ‘why me?’ because she knew that her illness was random, but she did ask herself why she submitted to a horrible treatment regime when all it could do was buy a little time. At one point she wished she’d just slipped into a final coma, but towards the end of the book she says she’s glad she had those few extra years. She talks about being weak, fragile and dependant, about the wonderful doctors, her loving husband and the goodness of her four daughters. It is a generous, life-affirming book. I wish I still had it, but I’m glad I gave it away.

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