Many of those present struggled to make their voices heard. Photograph: Raphael Gray
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The Ballad Of Not Reading In Gaol: Carol Ann Duffy and others declaim for prisoners' rights

A report from today’s Howard League protest.

Is justice secretary Chris Grayling a philistine? The Howard League for Penal Reform thinks so. The campaign group held a protest today outside HMP Pentonville to oppose his ban on the sending of books and other small items to British inmates.

The crowd  mostly journalists  gathered on the Caledonian Road at 2.30 pm. Howard League chief executive Frances Crook explained that we had assembled “to celebrate books, to celebrate literature”. A parade of worthies proceeded to read snatches of poetry in a show of defiance against the government. Headliner Carol Anne Duffy, the poet laureate, was a disappointment; her words did not exactly ring above the noise of the street and the clack of massed camera shutters. In fact, little of the verse soared, even in the mouths of those reading Wordsworth and Shelly. But Samuel West’s thunderous performance of a Mark Hurst ditty called “50 Shades of Grayling” at least had the virtue of being funny: “Less likely to give the nonces a shankin’ if your missus sends you the new Ian Rankin”.

The arguments voiced were straightforward but powerful. Books are a right, a tool for self-improvement. A. L. Kennedy spoke eloquently of her time spent working in an unnamed prison, where a weekly writers' group had helped stave off madness. She called books “spiritual food”. They preserve minds in institutions that work to destroy them, especially when they fall into the hands of private companies.

Shutters clacked faster when actress Vanessa Redgrave took centre stage. She read a poem of her own and a verse of “Imagine” by John Lennon. Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaign group Liberty, called Grayling a “spiteful and disgusting” man through a loudhailer.

The activists took it for granted that righteousness was on their side, but some residents of Islington disagreed. “They don’t deserve it”, shouted a man in a white van.

Crook brought proceedings to a close after thirty minutes. The crowd had been slowly closing around her all afternoon, prompting some of the photographers and camera operators to exchange words as they jostled for space. When dismissed, the journalists broke rank and pushed towards the speakers for comment.

The Howard League wants to force a government u-turn. Grayling says that won’t happen. But the longer his prison book ban stays in the news, the more isolated the minister will become.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism