Who The Heck Is Henrik Smit?

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I was woken with a jolt at 3am by a staccato melodic flourish and a short vibration sequence. It was my mobile phone, although, I assume you’d probably deduced that. It was a bloody Facebook alert. At 3 O’clock in the morning, for goodness sake.

“Why not wish Henrik Smit a happy birthday?”

Well, Facebook, there are a number of reasons why not. The first being that it is 3 in the morning. Could this not have waited? Chances are, Henrik Smit is currently asleep. Where is the sense in waking me up in order to prompt me to potentially wake someone else up, which is what would likely happen if he, like me, has forgotten to turn off his phone.

The other reason why not to wish Henrik Smit a happy birthday is for the simple reason that I have no idea who Henrik Smit is. Until thirty seconds ago, I don’t think I’d ever heard of the name Henrik Smit.

I turned off my phone, closed my eyes, and tried to get back to sleep. But it wasn’t happening. I tried counting sheep, but, being blind, I’ve never actually seen sheep before. Perhaps I could count them by feeling them. I try to evoke a memory of when I might have felt a sheep. I seem to remember a trip to a farm when I was in primary school, and I think I felt a sheep then – not like that, you dirty so-and-sos, I was in primary school; not that I’m suggesting that now I’m grown up I’d be more amenable to the idea of inappropriate sheep handling. But anyway, we digress, shame on you. But my sheep feeling experience was a long time ago, and the process of trying to dredge up the memory was making my brain ache. Plus, being blind, my other senses often become more acute, in order to compensate, and so I was being driven mad by the relentless cacophonous bleats of hundreds of sheep.

The noise was driving me insane. It was no use. Sleep wasn’t going to come. Plus, there was a clawing, niggling question needling its way through my brain: who the hell is Henrik smit?

I turned on my phone, and when it had loaded, launched the Facebook app. Instantly, Facebook was awake and ready to deluge me with uninteresting trivia about people who, at best, I might label acquaintances.

There was a status update from a senior member of staff who used to work with me in the office job I did before I started living the dream of professional folk singer. This lady was certainly living the dream these days. Redundancy was clearly working well for her, as now she could finally ]dedicate the time to pursue her true calling in life: playing Candy Crush Saga.

What is reality? This is a question that has been grappled with by philosophers, scientists, theologians, artists. I don’t have an answer. Sorry if you were getting all excited there thinking, “finally, David is about to explain the nature of reality in this blog post. And what’s more, he’ll probably throw in a couple of jokes too, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. My goodness, he’s having a blinder of a week; first, the tax loophole discovery, and now this.”

Alas not. However, the reason I got us onto such a topic is because I think it’s fascinating how Facebook distorts our realities.

A couple of years ago, this particular lady relished the opportunity to assert what minuscule amount of authoritt she had. I was fairly new to the job, and she made sure on my first day that I knew that she was in a position of power compared with me. She would get unnaturally impassioned and enraged if I occasionally forgot to sign into the building. I’d get into work, and perhaps I’d be sidelined by a colleague, or maybe the phone would ring, and so I’d temporarily forget to sign in. Then, maybe half an hour or so later I’d remember and go to fill out the signing book, where she would inevitably be lerking, ready to pounce.

“You forgot to sign in,” she would angrily declare, as if the fact that I was now signing myself in wasn’t evidence enough for her that I’d realised this and was now remedying the situation.

“Do we need to go through the signing in protocol again, David.”

Evidently not, since I had clearly remembered and was now signing the bloody signing in book. But that didn’t stop her giving me the lecture anyway.

And then one day she was made redundant as a result of the economic downturn. God bless those bankers. And then it all changed. Not immediately, but over time. I started getting invitations from her to feed her chickens , which I initially thought was some kind of odd euphemism, although, it turns out that she was inviting me to play FarmVille. Or one of those other Facebook games, such as candy crush Saga or Bubble Shooter.

I have no idea what these games involve, but it’s odd to think that this woman who used to shout at me on a daily basis for the tiniest of things is now wanting me to crush her candy, feed her chickens, and shoot bubbles at her at 3 in the morning. If I knew back then that this is how things would pan out, that in a couple of years she would be asking me to romp around a fictitious farm, playing with bubbles, then I’d have found her and the whole situation even more risible than I actually did.

Facebook has helped to distort our reality, and to show us how fabricated and fake these constructs actually are. These constructs that we allow to dominate us, intimidate us. Facebook helps lift the lid on the absurdity of it all. In 2012, they are a senior member of staff, reprimanding you in their office for some absurd inconsequentiality , and then a year later they’re challenging you to a bubble fight, and asking you to help them feed some virtual livestock.

Obviously, I declined her invitation to join her on the farm; I had detective work to do. Who the heck is Hendrik Smit?

My detective work began by identifying mine and Hendrik’s mutual friends. We didn’t have any. So I opened Hendrik’s profile to see what could be gleaned. There was very little that could be obtained, due to the fact that Hendrik’s profile was written in Dutch. I must have met Hendrik at a Dutch folk festival that I performed at five years ago. We’d probably only very fleetingly spoke. Hendrik Smit didn’t even register on the distant acquaintance list.

I could have left it there, but being the great detective that I am, I decided to continue my investigation. I pasted the contents of his profile and wall posts in to Google translate. The translation was far from perfect, but I began to piece together the picture, and within a couple of minutes I had learnt one rather unexpected fact about Hendrik Smit. Hendrik Smit is not even a person. Hendrik Smit … is a dog! Hendrik Smit must be the dog of a person who I fleetingly met at a folk festival in Holland five years ago.

But, a minute’s further reading ascertained that my assertion was not entirely correct, for Hendrik Smit is not a dog, Hendrik Smit was a dog. Hendrik Smit is dead. Hendrik Smit is a dead dog! A dead dog belonging to someone I fleetingly met at a folk festival in Holland five years ago!

Again, I refer to my theory about Facebook completely distorting and warping our realities. Facebook had woken me at 3am with the suggestion that I wish a dead dog a happy birthday. Ad dead dog who, up until a few seconds ago, I had no idea had even ever existed.

I have all sorts of people on my Facebook. I tend to accept most people who send me a friend request. I primarily use Facebook as a promotional tool. I don’t think of it as a private place for me and my nearest and dearest to romp around fictitious farms. I’d have just accepted Hendrik Smit without giving it a second’s thought. I can’t see his photo, so I’d have had no idea that he was a dog.

Well I suppose I might as well delete him, I thought, but then I stopped. I can’t delete him on his birthday. What kind of a man would I be if I shunned a dead dog on his birthday? What kind of a present is that?

And then it hit me. A present. Just because he’s a dead dog, that doesn’t mean he’s not deserving of a birthday present. And I had the perfect present in mind. What’s the perfect present for a dead dog? It’s obvious. A lifeless bitch, of course. And I knew where to find one of those. I used the friends suggestion tool to suggest that Hendrik smit might be a suitable friend for my former work’s manager. And then I closed down Facebook, turned off my phone and fell asleep, feeling very pleased with my self, basking in the knowledge that I was truly a very funny man.

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Why Being Disagreeable Pays

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A couple of days back, I was on the HMRC website, about to make a start on my tax return. It doesn’t need to be submitted until the 31st January, but I thought it best to make a start this week, given the copious amounts of money we’re dealing with here. Well, I am a professional folk singer, after all.

A message popped up on the website, telling me to read the following terms and conditions, which I’d have to agree to in order to proceed to the self-assessment section to allow me to pay my tax contribution.

Well, you know me. I love a good T’s & C’s blurb. I thought it might be the inspiration for yet another blog post, making it two consecutive blog posts inspired by written contracts. Perhaps i’d find that my niche was writing side-splitting blog posts about written legal agreements. So I began to scan the paragraphs, keeping my ears peeled – I was using a screen reader – in case there was anything of comic potential contained within.

But then an even more compelling thought struck me. The HMRC website informed me that I should only proceed to the tax return payment section if I agree to their terms and conditions. If I don’t agree with them then I technically can’t pay my taxes. That’s not my fault; it’s just the way the system is. So I had a cursory read through the paragraphs of text, found a couple of errant punctuation marks that rankled me, and decided that that was good enough grounds for disagreement. So I closed the web browser, and worried no more about it, safe in the knowledge that I, like Apple, like Google, like Starbucks, had managed to find a tax loop hole, and unlike those major corporations, I’d done it without some highfalutin, expensive accountant. I felt rather smug for the rest of the day. They’re right: tax doesn’t have to be taxing, not at all.

In last week’s blog post, I mentioned that we had been nominated for Best Group of the Year in Songlines magazine. I mentioned that you can vote for us to win by going here. Since then, we have won the Best Group/duo of the Year in the Fatea Awards. So technically it’s already been decided that we are the best group of 2014 by a team of professional music critics, so I don’t think you’re really in much of a position to contradict this. So the best thing you can do is to visit the Songlines site and cast your vote for The Young’uns.

Back next week. Will it be about written contracts? Probably not.

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Forget Going Global. The Young’uns are Going Universal!

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At the back end of last year, I received an email from an airline company. They wanted to know if we were happy to have the Young’uns’ included as part of their in-flight entertainment music. This request did not particularly surprise me, given that one of the many positive side effects of the Young’uns’ music is tempering altitude sickness, as well as helping to prevent deep vein thrombosis. You don’t get those kind of ancillary benefits with Bellowhead.

I was quite excited at the prospect of being one of the artists played before take-off. What an incredible honour to be the band that blurs out over the speakers, pre-flight, interrupted every thirty seconds by an advert for cheep perfume, car hire or travel insurance. Imagine being the musical backdrop to the pre-flight safety announcements. When I first started singing folk songs, I had no idea that such accolades awaited me.

It transpired, however, that we are not to occupy quite such a hallowed role, but instead our music is to be featured as part of one of the radio programmes that passengers can choose to listen to during their flight. So we’re not quite living the dream yet.

The particular show that we are to be included on is called British Underground Radio. I’m not exactly sure when and where it’s being broadcast, nor how many people will actually get to hear us, but I’m letting you know in case you happen to be on an aeroplane and you see it listed as one of the in-flight entertainment options.

I know we have some very zealous and committed fans, and so I feel it is my responsibility to urge those people not to start booking hundreds of flights, in the hope of having the opportunity to experience our music on an aeroplane, which is certainly an experience worth having. Love in a Northern Town sounds perfectly adequate when listened to in normal settings, but becomes utterly transcendent when listened to at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour, and at altitudes of ten thousand Feet or higher.

I will try and get more information regarding the exact times and flights on which we are to be aired. I don’t want to be responsible for a dramatic increase in carbon emissions, due to overly keen Young’uns fans.

The airline company sent me a contract to read through and sign. I was cursorily reading through it, not expecting to find anything of note, when I was struck by one of the lines:

“You allow your music to be broadcast in the agreed territory. (Territory shall mean the universe.)”

My goodness, they really do have big plans for our music. Talk about going places. This airline company aren’t satisfied with broadcasting our music solely to planet earth. Oh no, that’s way too anodyne. Nor are they even content to restrict broadcast of our music to our specific Solar System. , that’s not good enough. These guys have ambition. They intend to transcend beyond the Milky way. They’re not pulling punches here. They want the Young’uns to go universal!

It’s good however to see that they haven’t allowed hubris to utterly overtake them, and that they haven’t got ideas that one might deem too unrealistic. They could have expressed their intention to pump our music into multiverses and parallel universes. At least they know when to stop. It’s reassuring to see that they are aware of their limitations, otherwise you could be forgiven for thinking that we’re being sold a pipe dream. Maybe one day our music will get to be heard in various multiverses, but for the time being I’m more than content in the knowledge that our songs will be enjoying a universal audience, and I look forward to signing my first autograph for a Martian.

So, as you can see, it’s an exciting time for the Young’uns right now.

In other news, the Young’uns have been shortlisted for the Best Group of the Year award in SongLines magazine. This is an earth-based publication incidentally; we are yet to receive acclaim from outer space, but obviously it’s only a matter of time. If you want to vote for us to win, then go here. And you really should, because one day we will have support from extraterrestrial beings, who may be inclined to zap those of you who dare not to vote or to vote for another act. So be warned!

This year I resolve to write a blog post a week, so I’ll be back very soon.

A reminder that you can enjoy – or at least listen to anyway – the Twelve Podcasts of Christmas, which looks back at Young’uns Podcasts past. We’ll be back at the end of the month with a new series of weekly podcasts, and the third Pick and Mix will be released soon.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 12

We have a bone to pick with Eliza Carthy. Find out the true identity of the Young’uns; our darkest secrets are revealed by a palm reader. We play a couple of examples of Young’uns anecdotes gone wrong. We play clips from our gig at Bamfest which had possibly the drunkest audience we’ve ever played to. Award winning folk performer and qualified medical doctor James Fagan talks testicles in our new feature James Fagan’s Talking Bollocks, and Folk in Focus reveals James’s food preferences. And we see our Twelve Podcasts of Christmas series out with a beautiful rendition of a U2 song from our polish friends Brasy.

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Happy new year. We’ll be back later this month for a new weekly run of Young’uns Podcasts.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 11

Happy new year! 2014 has been an incredible year for us, one of the highlights being our very own folk festival, on Hartlepool’s Headland. On the eleventh Podcast of Christmas we bring you music and chat from the festival, from Polish Vocal harmony quintet Brasy, Greg Russell and ciaran Algar, the Hut People, and Mic and Susie Darling. We teach Brasy to speak Geordie, and introduce them to the Birthday Game. And we quiz Greg and Ciaran about their thoughts on matters biscuit.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 10

Today is our worst Podcast of Christmas so far; not in terms of quality (which conforms to the usual exceptional standard), but because of the fact that we’ll be discussing our worst and second worst gigs in our folk career so far, as well as the worst accommodation we’ve stayed in while on tour. It may be the season of peace and goodwill, but not in the Young’uns camp. Other subjects include the UK Independence Party, and the strangest raffle prize given out in a folk club. Music comes from a Young’uns Wilsons collaboration, and a Young’uns Oasis cover.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 9

In addition to another Sean Cooney dream (this time set in cold war Russia), we enter the minds of Jim Causley, and Ciaran Algar. The Young’uns provide a plentiful supply of toilet humour. Michael Hughes is a penguin beater. Music comes from Jim Causley, and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 8

Our top-class journalists will do whatever it takes (whether that be hacking computers or breaking into houses) to bring you the stories from the world of folk music that matter. Today, we unearth the truth about folk singer, fiddle player, photographer and model Elly Lucas. Sam Pirt from the Hut People dispenses pineapple facts. The Young’uns have an alarming gig in Warwick. We bring you surreal animal-based ramblings. And what’s going on with Michael’s guitar?

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 7

More Young’uns dreams, involving Mike Harding and a slightly erotic scene between two Young’uns. Curiosity might be what kills a cat, but the Young’uns seemingly have the power to make cats throw up. Young’uns Podcast brings you the latest folk news in Folk in Focus, getting to the stories that really matter in the folk world, such as Sam Sweeney’s sleeping habits and Barbara Dickson’s domestic arrangements. And we forge an unlikely partnership with some American sportsmen.

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Twelve Podcasts of Christmas. Podcast 6

There’s music from Bob Fox, Sunjay Brayne, and a collaboration with the Young’uns and Sam Carter. Sean Cooney takes us to a post-apocalyptic folk festival, David Eagle stars in the TV game show Countdown, and does Michael Hughes have a Nazi satnav?

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