The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

How the EU saved my life

In Britain’s upcoming EU referendum, I am a passionate supporter of the #Remain campaign, for both pragmatic and sentimental reasons. Watch me explain why in this short video, made with help of my friends Jenny Chamarette and Paula Varjack.

20 things to do in your 20s

1). Sleep with Ryan Gosling. Handsome, well-read and articulate – and you are too. There’s never going to be a better decade than your 20s to sleep with the Gos.


2). Put a pen up your arse. Because nothing says ‘I’m in my 20s’ more than having a biro shoved up your backside.

3). Turn 20. Because what can be more authentically 20s than actually being 20.

Jumping woman

4). Learn a language. Why not start with the language of the country you live in? Take advantage of that plastic 20s brain!

5). Visit Paris – and do a shit in the toilets at the Louvre while quietly crying to yourself. Vive la France!

Photo by Moyan Brenn under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

Photo by Moyan Brenn under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

6). Go on, right the way up there, the whole pen.

7). Your 20s is the freest time of your life. So amuse yourself and others by paying in restaurants with little notes saying ‘I’m young and you are old!’


8). But your 20s is about preparing for your 30s, too. Try to decide which of your future children you would save in an eventual Sophie’s Choice style scenario.

9). Run up crippling emotional, financial and spiritual debts. You’ll have the rest of your life to pay off those bad boys!

Viaggioroutard/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Viaggioroutard/Flickr/Creative Commons.

10). Manu Picchu.

11). Spend a year answering all questions put to you in a Christopher Walken accent. Because twenties.

12). Bury a wooden chest full of doubloons to form the object of a zany but ultimately uplifting quest for your grandchildren in their 20s! Did someone say magical wacky adventure? Did someone say 20s?

13). Fight and die in World War Two. Nothing says ‘I’m in my 20s’ like making the ultimate sacrifice in this great historical conflict.


Courtesy of the Deutsches Bundesarchiv (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany).

14). Now bring it out to the nib.

15). Your 20s can be a time for reflection too. Spend a few months in the stomach of a giant whale, ruminating on God’s mystery and the gravity of the demands He sets upon us earthly mortals. Don’t forget to floss.

16). Feeling bold? Gently break to Pierce Brosnan how badly he’s aging. He’ll be comforted by your youthful vigour, and gracefully retire from action roles.

Pierce Brosnan GIF

17). Mother.

18) Do begin to accept your own mortality, insignificance and increasing loss of physical and intellectual capacity.

(Just kidding! Save all that for the morning of your 30th birthday. If there’s one thing that your twenties teaches you it’s that anyone over the age of 29 is an evolutionarily-redundant bumtoad!)

19). Do learn to stop putting additional pressure on yourself by setting arbitrary milestones in the form of random and meaningless lists.

Lady apple

20). What do you mean the pen is stuck?

Three poems about comedy


Tonight I stood on stage in front
Of a thousand, and they laughed
For me. The cameras ran.
I celebrated the greatest triumph of my career,
A television host shook my hand.

Now I am sat in a Chinese restaurant
With my notebook open before me.
The restaurant is quiet, aside
From an old man drinking soup and
Soya sauce crossing my plate.


Somehow a bad comedy evening is
Easier to bear than a poetry one;
At least you can get drunk.
Poets are so much nicer,
At times they grab each other’s shoulders
Out of pure delight.
Comedy is rougher – it takes all sorts
And has strong elements of a brawl,
Its agents are like boxing promoters
Talking their guys up.
And yet despite this roughness and
Poetry’s exquisite charm,
In the belief it makes a difference
I choose comedy.


After the show

There is always one act of comedy
Who doesn’t do so well,
The gentle kid or one-time champ
Who is beginning to coast. The consolation is –
Nothing. All the faces know it,
And the only remaining option’s to be funny while you drink.

Mohammad Jangda/Creative Commons 2.0.

Mohammad Jangda/Creative Commons 2.0.

‘The giants’

I dreamt a sadness deep as pillows
These giant pillows on which giants slept.
And when the giants woke they felt the sadness
And, nodding sadly, wept.

My heart – a broken thing
And yours, a courgette.
The giants waited outside the windows
Of our fifteenth-floor apartment.

As the day went on there was a deepening
Of the way I felt about you,
No almanac recorded this, and what the giants sang
Simply wasn’t true.

I cannot say it. Can you say it?
It seems too profoundly deep to say.
Let the giants say it, say it, say it!
Ah but those giants have gone away.

‘Getting Better Acquainted’

Isn’t it great that spring is here? I’ve had two most pleasant bike rides the last days, people are smiling, and a general mood of blowing off the cobwebs pervades London. It’s upbeat!

Happily enough, a new edition of the Getter Better Acquainted podcast has just been released on which I feature. I think it turned out very well, and we really did get into some depth, thanks in large part to the excellent interviewer Dave Pickering. (I also recommend Dave’s ‘Mansplaining Masculinity’ show here). So if you fancy hearing me talk about my Oxford years, learning languages, rebuilding my comedy career and even having a good-natured argument about Jeremy Corbyn, now’s your chance.

Enjoy the spring!


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