Author Archives: Simone Toni Whitlow

About Simone Toni Whitlow

Simone has a few different hats on her hat rack: History writer, Project Manager, Teacher, Skip Tracer, Musician... and occasionally collector of random stories, trivia and pop culture.

Seven: Be it ever so humble….

What is keeping me awake at night, you may ask? For most nights this week, absolutely nothing…. Though that is down to a feeling of constantly treading water at the moment. I’m tired from a lack of downtime over the last week, and that tiredness has me sleeping like a baby. The reason for my good sleep? The house I’ve rented for 12 years has recently been sold. After work I’ve been busy packing my life into boxes, and preparing to move across town…. a very bittersweet feeling if being honest.

One of the thoughts which has occupied my mind; as I sort through books, DVD cases, and product warranties for various household items is just how Quixotic a dream it has become to actually own property in late-stage capitalist New Zealand. Yes, I have more or less paid one mortgage of late – that of my soon to be ex-landlords. The property records show they bought this beaten up old bungalow in 1998 for $220,000. After four years they left to rent in a fancy school zone themselves, so their son could attend a Grammar school. They then moved back to Cape Town in 2006. I have no idea how much of a deposit they paid for the house. For 18 years though, myself and others have contributed a considerable sum to their mortgage.

Of course we live with an economy which needs must maintain growth, in an age of shrinking productive sectors. Added value has come from other places – including allowing asset values to grow beyond the reach of most first time buyers. Plenty of cashed up opportunists; house flippers, land bankers, unscrupulous slum lords, in search of a quick buck, bear some responsibility – but to be fair, responsibility for the insane rise in house prices rests squarely, systemically with Neo-liberalism. The opportunists could not have gamed the system if the system had not been built to be gamed that way.
Baby boomers, in their youth, could have bought an average property for four times the average wage before tax. Ask any boomer, they will tell you paying the mortgage was still a struggle. It took sacrifice – but in the end it was all worth it. Personally I have no doubt this is true… That only 60% of Baby Boomers managed to own property is testament to this. That a quarter of boomers still need to work in their retirement speaks volumes.

The market prior to COVID? The most recent statistics I came across had average house prices at 12 times the average wage. To complicate matters, wage inequality had also risen, so less than 10 percent of New Zealanders even earn the average wage, or higher anymore. Coronavirus feels like a massive juncture. It comes on the heels of a crashing long economic wave (a Kondratieff wave) in 2008; and an awkward start to the next one. Democracies just printed out more and more fiat money and pretended as best they could nothing radical ever happened. If we’re on the edge of a post-capitalist world I have no idea if what’s next will be better… but I do know the neoliberal experiment was a bitch to most people.

So, yes, if something were keeping me awake at night it could well be a wish to lay down roots – thwarted by a seven figure price tag.

Except, that wouldn’t be the only thought to keep me awake.

We imbue houses with all kinds of totemic, and metaphysical power. When the tempest rages outside your home protects you from the storm. It is your castle. Your sanctuary. It holds all kinds of memories, both bad and good – of friends and celebrations, trials and tragedy. “If only these walls could talk” right? Even a rental becomes, by virtue of the things you collect in it, an outwards representation of your very self. At the very least, it is nice to live in a place long enough that when you get up to use the rest room in the middle of the night, you can find your way without having to turn on the lights. As much as we take those memories with us, we pack our treasures in boxes, and we will hang our paintings on walls that look as good as the old walls – I think there is a level of present hedonism – in me at least, that struggles to see the new place will soon feel like home too.

* Note, not my actual house in the featured image. The picture below is my home office however, how I will miss my office…

Six: Bedtime for Don-zo

What is keeping me awake at night tonight, you may ask? Let me tell you a short story.

On 19-20 November 1985 Ronald Reagan, the most powerful man in the First World, and Mikhail Gorbachev the most powerful man in the Second World met to discuss a way forward which did not involve the mutually assured destruction of the planet. A dangerous Cold War had raged between the two powers for decades, leading to a massive stockpiling of nuclear weapons. The talk had been incredibly tense as both men politicked away. If you were a fly on the wall at the Geneva chateau where the two men met you might think we’re all done for – the talks were not going terribly well. The group took a break, with Reagan and Gorbachev taking a walk outside.

While stretching their legs, Reagan turned to Gorbachev and asked, earnestly
“Mikhail, What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?”

“No doubt about it” replied a bemused Gorbachev.

“We too” responded Reagan.

I needn’t tell you the Geneva summit went much more productively after that. In 1987 Ronald Reagan revisited this thought in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

“I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world.”

This evening a friend of mine re-posted a video to social media featuring a tearful WHO head Tedros Adhanom. In the video Adhanom pleads with the despots of this world who have let COVID19 run rampant to do the right thing. He calls for the world to put aside partisan squabbles, and act in the greater good to defeat this alien threat. What struck me is, if Ronald Reagan, a criminal, one time bootlicker of the House Un-American Activities Committee; a man once out-acted by a chimpanzee got it – surely we all can too? Trump, I’m looking specifically at you.

Five: Puyi steps into the future.

Hi there readers, today’s post is a short one. I had a fancy introduction written, but it gave the game away from the offset. Today I want to share a tale of the last Chinese Emperor, a man known simply as Puyi. Puyi came to power just shy of his third birthday in 1908, and would find himself deposed following a revolution starting in Wuhan just four years later. He would enjoy an occasional, brief reign later in life as a useful idiot – first as a figurehead for the warlord Zhang Xun in 1917 – then the Japanese in the 2nd Sino Japanese war/ World War Two (1934-1945). For most of his life he was kept like a bird in a gilded cage. Kept in luxury in palatial surroundings, but without the freedom to go where he chose.

Puyi had a learned tutor named Reginald Johnston. Johnston would, later in his life, write a book. That book would be adapted into a movie. Peter O’Toole would play him on the big screen. He taught the captive emperor a great many things about the world, but the one thing which most enraptured the adolescent aristocrat was the telephone. We currently live in a world where new technology has an increasingly fast uptake. In 1921 telephones were largely a newfangled device owned by few– in spite of the first telephone exchanges going in from the late 1870s. The phone would, rightly have been seen as a modern wonder in Puyi’s age. As with many teens, the last emperor insisted he must have the shiny new toy – to the consternation of his handlers.

“But, your majesty, the palace has never had a telephone before” they said. “Bringing in such Western technology will upset the celestial balance” they pleaded, un-ironically, while surrounded by Swiss cuckoo clocks. Puyi would have none of their complaining, a phone line was going in. So it was the last emperor ended his splendid isolation with the world.

But, what did he do with his new found freedom? Did he place diplomatic phone calls to world leaders, find a long lost love, or even negotiate a book deal? Not on your life. He made countless prank phone calls to other Chinese citizens unlucky enough to also own a phone.

Four: (What’s so funny bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Hi there readers, tonight I wanted to jot down a few thoughts – let me warn you some of this will be a little meta as it concerns my sister channel, Tales of History and Imagination. The Tales channel is currently tied down with a couple of long, multi-part blog topics. The Tuesday blogs were intended as podcast topics – before I temporarily shelved the podcasts. They are massively time consuming, mostly from an editing perspective. They stand in stark contrast to the other blog posts (I’ll write, on average, 1800 words per blog there but my proposed 2 part podcast on Tom Horn ran over 9,000 words, the current series The wreck of the Batavia is still being written, 14,000 words and counting). This means some of my regular readers have been tuning out on the series. Because of this I wrote a Thursday series on pre and early rock and roll music… but after six weeks on that topic I began to worry I would fall into the same trap with my readers there.

Then, in the midst of my flurry of ‘Tales’ writing, the owner of the house I live in announced he was putting the place on the market. Suddenly I had another time consuming activity on my hands – finding a new home. Hence the Thursday tales stopped.

I was in the process of writing a Thursday Tale for that channel when the time sucking vortex of house hunting hit. June, after all is Pride month – that time of year when irrational and homophobic people alike rant at corporations on social media for uploading cover photos with rainbow colored logos – and, much more importantly, a time when the LGBTQI+ community can honor those who fought so hard to move society forward, celebrate how far they have come – and take stock of how far we must all go. Full disclosure, I had two pieces I started, but shelved this month.
Let me tell you a little about the first, for the Tales site: A petition was delivered to New Zealand’s parliament in November 1968 which has long fascinated me. Signed by ‘75 Prominent New Zealanders’ it called for the repeal of laws which saw many New Zealanders jailed for homosexuality.

If you don’t know much about New Zealand law, our law books proper start with our first government in 1853. For convenience sake we borrowed our law wholesale from the British books, and tinkered with certain laws when the need arose. British law around sodomy in particular stated one could be executed for the act. No-one was actually executed in New Zealand but many poor souls were jailed, some facing hard labor and the prospect of a life sentence. Of course there was a lot of negative stigma in just being outed as homosexual – you might lose your job, find yourself a pariah in your community, perhaps be thrown out onto the streets. A considerable number of gay New Zealanders committed suicide on being outed. In 1959, then attorney general Rex Mason was so upset at the suicide of an outed friend he fought to scrap the laws which led to his friend’s demise. He was, for the most part, unsuccessful – but his actions led to the scrapping of the life sentence in 1961.

For the sake of brevity (I did promise to keep these ‘disquisitions’ short after all) we can skip past the parts where I point out the other horrific things which happened to gay New Zealanders in the mid 20th century, such as being locked away in psychiatric hospitals and subjected to electro convulsive therapy. I don’t know if we ever carried out ice pick lobotomies such as some Americans did in the same era. I could point out tales of gay kiwis copping beatings from police – or the horrific January 1964 murder of Charles ‘Allan’ Aberhart. Well, ok maybe I should say a little about Allan.

Allan Aberhart was one of around 1,000 men convicted of homosexual acts in New Zealand. Having just been released from a three month prison term for being caught in a consensual relationship with another man, he was murdered by a group of teenagers while visiting a popular gay pick up spot in Christchurch’s Hagley Park. The six teens were caught, and tried for manslaughter, but found not guilty by the jury. There was enough outrage around his murder, and the acquittal of the six teens that many heterosexual New Zealanders began questioning the status quo. This allowed groups like the recently established Dorian society to begin to make some headway.

In 1968, another society – first named the Wolfenden Association (after the British, 1957 Wolfenden report, which would lead to the UK legalizing homosexuality in 1967, later renamed The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society), created the petition in question. The petition would be presented to parliament in November 1968, handed over by leader of the opposition, Labour’s A.H. Nordmeyer. The petition was signed by ’75 prominent New Zealanders’ – and that is really all we have to go on. The names of these 75 superheroes in my books, have never been publicly acknowledged. The government of the time debated, then dismissed the petition in early 1969. New Zealand would not legalize homosexuality until 1985 after a considerable fight to get there. Various human rights legislation would follow. The country would bring in civil unions, then we would become the 14th nation in the world to vote for gay marriage. I might then have expounded on the hardships still faced by some LGBTQI+ people, including the battlefield which currently is transgender rights – something I myself have an interest in and wrote a university dissertation about. If I want to close this piece out at around a thousand words however, let’s shelve that for now. In a world based on winners and losers, us and them, and privileged minorities keeping their hegemony there is always work to do.

My original intention for the ‘Tale which never was’ though, was to acknowledge the heroism of the 75. To state the question if a hero choses to wear a mask, as the prominent 75 have, is it in poor taste for a history writer like myself to want to peek under the mask and find out who these great New Zealanders were? Sometimes superheroes need masks right? I also wanted to wax poetical on the power of love and reiterate love is what this post should really be about. To talk about a sexual act, and the draconian punishments for it on our law books for well over a century, I think it is important people know these things happened. It is perhaps more important to reiterate – for the irrational and homophobic people who rant at corporations with rainbow logos this month, Love is love. Everyone deserves the right to be their true authentic self, and to be head over heels in love with person who completes them.

The other piece I began, initially for this blog – I’ll save that for a rainy day. And, of course I did want to wish everyone celebrating (or commemorating) Pride month a happy Pride month.

Three: Dame Vera…

In the days leading up to the second world war a terror permeated the offices of the war planners. The Great War of 1914-18 was stuff of nightmares. The coming war, with its increased mechanization- tanks, planes, bigger bombs, aircraft carriers – would be several magnitudes worse. At any moment a murder of fighter planes could black out the skies of London, unleashing their deadly payload. While the damage could be catastrophic, the planners worried just as much of the psychological toll on the people.

In August 1915 the people of London experienced a brief taste of terror from on high, when a fleet of zeppelins flew over the city. The slow moving dirigibles dropped bombs and grenades out the windows on the unwitting populace below. This caused great distress among the people of London. This time, the war office believed, the trauma would be far worse. As bad as thousands of war dead would be at least you can bury them, grieve, and move on. Millions of shell shocked Britons? The country did not have enough asylums to contain them. Nowhere near the number of mental health professionals. What is the cost of a million catatonic mouths to feed? What is the effect of a million less pairs of hands to lend a hand in the war effort?

Of course the Battle for Britain descended. The Luftwaffe unleashed hellfire and thunder on the poor Britons. Their reply? The very British two finger salute – no Fokker was going to bring them down. I believe there is a myriad of reasons for this. Much of it comes from a unifying nature of the home-front in war – we’re all in this together – and the corollary – adversity gives us a greater purpose in a world normally full of purposeless or unfulfilling jobs. Some comes to the ability of leaders to rally the people behind the good cause. Freedom, liberty, the British way of life. Winston Churchill, for his faults, had an almost Shakespearean ability to turn a phrase “I have nothing to offer you but my blood, toil, tears and sweat”

Then of course there were those who reminded Britons of the little things they’d lost. Reminded them those things will return again.

“There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free”

Dame Vera Lynn may have only been the conduit, others wrote the words, but she captured the zeitgeist of the nation “I remember well as the shadows fell, the light of hope in their eyes”. She promised “The valley will bloom again”. To every young man sent off to fight she was everyone’s sweetheart. When singing We’ll meet again, she sang to you.
Damn, 103 is a good innings. Rest in peace Dame Vera, you will be missed.

Two: Ozymandias.

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

P.B Shelley – Ozymandias.

What is keeping me awake at the moment you may ask? America has quite a history of putting bronze racists on bronze horses, and brazen traitors on plinths. Most of them were put up in times when racists felt lynching wasn’t enough of a deterrent to the black folk – this is why you get a lot of them popping up in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

If someone tears down a statue, say to General Nathan Bedford Forrest are they erasing history, thus robbing future generations of a chance to learn of what really happened?

Well, yeah maybe some people- when someone puts a plaque up which says “Here lies Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a sadist who owned black people, and fought to keep owning – and being sadistic to, black people. In 1864 he captured over 500 union soldiers and committed a war crime, massacring them. He was a traitor to his country, and ultimately lost the war – but went on being racist by becoming the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan” and you tear that down too.

Then, only then, might it be said you are erasing history.

To tear down a Confederate statue is a very modern action on a very modern avatar; a symbolic casting off of historic oppression which carries on to this day. To compare this to book burning is a misunderstanding of both statues and of how we preserve history.

One: A disquisitive mind.

Hello all, welcome to my new project – my ‘Moonlight Disquisitions’ blog. If you’re curious about the discordant name, a disquisition is a detailed examination of a subject. One of those archaic words you rarely see in this day and age; till you’re delving into old essays on Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith and someone wants to put across how detailed, complex and thorough their work is – but say that in one word…. One long single word sure … that the writer in question is anything but sparing in their own prose.

Ironically, my intent on this blog is to do the opposite as much as possible. Another way you can use the word is to state one is disquisitive – one who examines, who probes. This carries more weight on the act of study and reflection than of producing long dissertations. I think I have a disquisitive mind, I hope I can keep the entries here valuable and insightful – but succinct.

Why the moonlight? Because I am a lifelong insomniac. I’m not one for nightmares and such, but I do have a hyperactive mind, and a day job which doesn’t challenge me nearly enough. Over the last few years I have done well in getting an average 6 to 7 hours a night’s sleep through taking a shower before bed, drinking less alcohol than I once did – and employing rain sounds or sleep hypnosis tapes over my smart devices. I also try to get in regular exercise. If I didn’t have these coping mechanisms I would likely run on four hours a night fairly regularly, and would feel all the worse for it. The essays I’m intending to fill this site with are ‘Moonlight disquisitions’ as they’re often the result of the thoughts that come to me at night. While I have no doubt there will be a certain family resemblance to my other child, Tales of History and Imagination – plenty of historical allusions, a leaning towards literary quotes. Occasionally some reference to some economic or scientific knowledge that found me at 2am one morning when, try as I might, I just can’t drift back off to sleep, yet. I intend to make this collection more personal, and generally more grounded in the here and now. If anything is likely to get a disquisition perhaps the subject, ultimately, is me?

Welcome to my personal blog.