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Firing Rex Tillerson is a bad look even by Trump’s standards

Relations between the president and his secretary of state were already strained, but timing so close to comments on Russian spy poisoning are unfortunate.

The Trump White House is no stranger to bad optics. But Monday's abrupt firing of secretary of state Rex Tillerson, coming just hours after the secretary of state had said that the poisoning of a former spy on British soil had “clearly” been a Russian act, was ridiculous even by Trump's low standards.

Wiltshire police raised the alarm last week when Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter were discovered in critical condition following apparent exposure to “an unknown substance” that was later revealed to be a deadly nerve agent of a type developed in the 1970s by the Soviet Union. Theresa May told the House of Commons that it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attack.

After a phone conversation with foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Tillerson told reporters on Monday that he agreed with the British government's assessment. He said that he had become “extremely concerned” about Russia's behaviour and said that despite diplomatic efforts, the Kremlin's behaviour had become only “more aggressive,” NBC news reported.

With Trump it is always more accurate to assume cock-up over conspiracy (although he's making it increasingly difficult to do so) and there is no indication yet that Tillerson's words on the assassination – that it was an “egregious act” that “clearly” came from Russia – were the reason for his firing. It's possible the decision was made before Tillerson went beyond what was then the White House line.

But the timing is extremely unfortunate, and appears abrupt and unexpected. Tillerson is on a diplomatic trip to Africa and his firing appears to have come out of a clear blue sky. It wasn't even officially announced; it was first reported by the Washington Post and then only later confirmed by a tweet from Trump's account – which is likely how Tillerson found out.

Addressing reporters later on Monday, Trump said - bizarrely, but probably not inaccurately - that he thought Tillerson would "be much happier now". He also confirmed that the then-secretary of state had been shut out of negotiations last week which ended in the shock agreement of the president to meet with Kim Jong-Un later this year.

Trump himself hedged his bets on Russian involvement in the UK poisoning, saying "as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be."

Abrupt though his firing was, it had not been not entirely unexpected. Tillerson never really grew into the job of America's leading diplomat. A former Exxon Mobil CEO, he left scores of senior State Department posts – including such crucial jobs as ambassador to South Korea – vacant for the duration of his tenure, without even nominating candidates for various key deputy-secretary positions, leaving America's diplomatic service drastically understaffed.

A private figure who seemed to resent press attention and often took diplomatic trips without notifying the media, Tillerson also clashed with Trump personally on numerous occasions, once memorably referring to the president as “a fucking moron”. The sourness of their relationship was a two-way street; during tense negotiations with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un last October, Trump undermined Tillerson by tweeting that his chief diplomat was “wasting his time”.

Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, will replace Tillerson as America's chief diplomat. A Trump loyalist and former congressman and member of the Tea Party – the far right wing of the Republicans – Pompeo is much more in line with Trump politically than his corporate predecessor.

But there is a potential minefield ahead; Pompeo, like Tillerson before him, is more hawkish on Russia than the president, and stood by the US intelligence community's assessment that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election - contradicting Trump, who said he believed Russian president Vladimir Putin's denials.

As he takes up what is probably the second-highest-profile job in the US administration, Pompeo may fall in line – or else he may find, as Tillerson did, that daring to speak against this president's position on Russia leads his career to a brusque and unceremonious end.

Nicky Woolf is a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.