“Let’s check what Martin Lewis says” was already a popular refrain in my household, owing to the fact that I am disgracefully financially inept. When anyone starts to talk about percentages, my brain begins to fog. (I have a similar problem with Bob Dylan: I know I should try to understand it, but… sorry, I drifted off there for a second.) Lewis is such a guru, so essential to British economic affairs. A friend of mine recently went to a high street bank for an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting to get some mortgage advice. He thought it would be more effective than chatting over the phone, more personable than a chatbot. The manager sat down, turned her laptop around and said: “Martin Lewis did a good video on this”, then pressed play on a YouTube clip about help to buy Isas. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” she asked, when the video was over.
When Lewis spoke out against “furlough shaming” on his Ask Martin Lewis podcast on 5 Live, I was pleased, because he is the kind of person people really listen to, even banks. He pointed out that it is not the employee choosing to go to the park instead of going to work, but the employer deciding whether they are on furlough or not. “And until 1 July, part of furlough means you are not allowed to work while on furlough,” Lewis explained. I know the rules are increasingly hard to keep track of these days, and it’s always worth checking what Dominic Cummings has decided to do, but this one is pretty straightforward – it is against the regulations to go to work when on furlough.
Like Lewis, I have seen a fair bit of this “furlough shaming” bubbling up online, with people writing grumbling posts, usually accompanied by a photograph of a busy beach, about people “getting paid to be on holiday” and “abusing the system”. Never mind that. To use just one example of many, hospitality workers have no open workplace to go to; it’s the curmudgeonly, punitive resentment of anyone daring to do anything at all pleasant when on furlough that really rankles. “We need to not try and divide and attack each other but help each other and pull together at this time,” said Lewis, finishing his speech with a rousing flourish. Just an idea: if the government would like to outsource inspirational talks, perhaps the daily briefing could consist of YouTube clips of Martin Lewis, telling us all to help each other and pull together, on a turned-around laptop.
Bernardine Evaristo: a bestseller celebrating black women
Bernardine Evaristo’s wonderful novel Girl, Woman, Other is at the top of the paperback fiction chart. I read it at the start of the year and could not remember being so galvanised by a story or left so hopeful. It was such a celebration of women, and of black women, and of life, and I was devastated when it ended, but only because it was over. The fact that people are buying it in their droves means a record number will be experiencing its generosity and joy for the first time. I envy them.
Evaristo is the first woman of colour to top that chart – ever. “Astonishing”, she tweeted, in response to the news. Over in paperback non-fiction, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is at number one. It is alarming when discussions about vast subjects are whittled down to tweet length; the fact that people are turning to books after the Black Lives Matter protests seems significant and worth at least a moment of hope.
Eddo-Lodge is the first black British author to reach the top spot on the non-fiction chart. “Can’t help but be dismayed by this – the tragic circumstances in which this achievement came about,” she tweeted. “Let’s be honest. Reader demand aside, that it took this long is a horrible indictment of the publishing industry.” I am wary of throwing stones in glass industries, but this indictment has turned into an open conversation. Authors including Candice Carty-Williams and Dorothy Koomson have criticised the publishing world and called for change that lasts beyond this moment.
Munroe Bergdorf: model fired by L’Oréal has the last word
Three years ago, the activist Munroe Bergdorf was hired by L’Oréal as its first transgender model and was announced as an ambassador for the #allworthit campaign. A few days later, Bergdorf wrote a Facebook post about “the racial violence of white people”, in response to the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. The company crudely severed its ties with her, releasing a statement saying her comments were “at odds with” its values of diversity and tolerance.
So when the brand posted a black square with the words “speaking out is worth it” on Instagram this month, Bergdorf was understandably outraged. It seemed astonishingly insensitive. But in a long overdue resolution, last week she revealed that, following talks with L’Oréal’s new president, Delphine Viguier, she would be rejoining the brand as a consultant and that the company would donate significant sums of money to Mermaids, the charity that supports transgender youth and their families, and UK Black Pride. “I hope this reconciliation is proof that we can all put aside our differences and work together to push for a more progressive, fair and equal world,” she wrote, deservedly having the last word.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist