Editor-At-Large: No lipstick? Glasses? It's just politics

 

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When Hillary Clinton says she's no longer bothered about the way she looks, I don't believe her. She's spent most of her professional life in the public eye, as the working wife of a president, and now as the US Secretary of State. Hillary has been mocked over the years for her frumpy clothes and unflattering hairstyles. Now, she's told an interviewer that, at 64, she no longer bothers with make-up, fancy hairstyles or contact lenses instead of glasses, implying it's a relief to leave such trivialities behind. Really?

This woman is 100 per cent an ambitious creature; it's in her DNA. The reason why Hillary Clinton has abandoned lipstick and is flaunting Plain Jane glasses and lank hair is that she wants to be taken seriously by the power brokers in US politics. Going "natural" is an astute career move, another step in her long-term goal of wresting the Democratic presidential nomination away from an unpopular President Obama at the last minute.

His belated pronouncement in support of gay marriage last week shows how worried he is – after all, the guy had years to decide where he stands on such a basic issue. Hillary is feigning naivety – no smart woman ever truly gives up on their appearance – it's another tool in their armoury.

Maggie Thatcher remodelled her hair into a Britannia helmet and used her handbag as a weapon. Angela Merkel always sticks to exactly the same single-breasted trouser suit and straight-behind-the-ears hair. In modern politics, appearance is everything: Obama uses his family like designer accessories. David Cameron goes jogging and continually wears that washed-out blue polo shirt when he goes casual.

Hillary will be using her plainness to send a subliminal message that she's not a woman to mess with. It shrieks austerity, setting a no-frills agenda. So don't tell me the new Hillary Clinton represents a great step forward for womankind – she's just playing politics. Believe me, if she thought she'd get the job by wearing an apron, she'd pop one on in a trice.

It's simply a question of taste

The composer Michael Nyman is having a strop because the Royal Opera House refused to commission his new opera. Based in Mexico City, where he spends most of his time, he's pompously announced on Facebook that he will retaliate by not having any of his operas presented "on the stage of ANY opera house in the UK, EVER", and suggests he's considering not paying taxes in Britain as a protest. The Royal Opera House regularly commissions new work for their more intimate Linbury Studio Theatre, but confirmed their decision was final: "In the end, it is a question of taste, as with all artistic choices."

Mr Nyman is not an easy man to work with, as I can confirm. Enchanted by his pastiche baroque score for the film The Draughtsman's Contract, I asked him to compose a piece of music as a soundtrack to a short film I was producing for Channel 4. Imagine my surprise when I received a tape recording of a woman teaching a budgie to speak, repeating the phrase "pretty boy" in a squawky voice over and over again. As the film was a modern interpretation of a silent cowboy movie, this was a bizarre response, to say the least.

Here's an idea: Trains that work

This isn't just a tale of four cities and two trains, it's another depressing story about the difficulties of travelling in "third world" Britain. A week ago, I took the new highspeed Italo train from Naples to Rome – the 140-mile journey took 68 minutes. The seats were comfortable, the trolley served tasty coffee and snacks. There was free Wi-Fi, live TV and even a carriage showing movies.

Last Thursday, I tried to get from King's Cross to York on the East Coast line. The 2.30pm train was cancelled at the last minute (varying reasons given) and passengers told to catch a Grand Central train to Bradford departing 20 minutes later, which meant getting off at Doncaster and waiting for a connection – but we weren't told when that might be.

At the information desk in the brand new concourse, three staff were dealing with dozens of angry customers, so a helpful fellow passenger looked up the information I needed on her iPhone. You can tart up a station, issue young staff T-shirts with "Customer Services" written on them, but if you can't provide trains and connections that work, then you might as well be running a Hornby Dublo train set.

In the Queen's Speech, there was no mention of the proposed high-speed rail link to Birmingham. Maybe it would be a good idea to get the existing system operating efficiently first.

The man who understood hair

Vidal Sassoon was a remarkable bloke: a working-class kid deserted by his dad, he grew up in an orphanage and dreamt of becoming an architect. The last time we talked, over dinner in Los Angeles, he proudly told me he read Shakespeare daily and hoped to see every single play before he died.

Vidal, a true revolutionary, understood that women care more about their hair than almost anything, even their partners. He liberated us from solid, formal, helmet styles with his carefully structured cuts that looked so sleek and effortless. In his subversive way, he engineered more social change than most modern architects. Vidal liberated women, so a big thank you.

A new blot on the landscape

They're hardly glorious stately homes nestling in verdant parkland, but utilitarian structures in windy places which you might grudgingly visit for a comfort break and a fried egg.

Last week, English Heritage granted two filling stations built in the Sixties and Seventies listed status to prevent their demolition. One, at Markham Moor on the A1 has a parabolic roof, while the Mobil station in Leicestershire has six jaunty parasols covering the forecourt – both prime examples of futuristic architecture.

But why should these redundant structures be spared the bulldozer? English Heritage lists too many modern buildings, which is bad news for architects. We need to build more new stuff to reflect the spirit of our age, and the current obsession with nostalgia is unhealthy.

One building I hope never gets listed is the repulsive ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, which was completed last week. Anish Kapoor, the artist who created this monstrosity with architect Cecil Balmond, described it as "not an image but an experience". Whatever that means, it's an "experience" I pray will be a temporary blight on the London skyline.

Jargon-spewing twits ruin English

Scotland Yard's head of security services has condemned the use of the word "blacklist" in case it causes offence. The police are understandably sensitive, having being accused of being "institutionally racist" in the past, but bans like this are ridiculous. Shouldn't coppers be more concerned about dealing with crime than splitting hairs over terminology? I predict that (as increasingly happens) the simple, pithy word blacklist will be replaced by a meaningless piece of jargon.

I've started monitoring how the English language is mangled by self-important twits. Last week, discussing airport queues, one bloke used the expression "management oversight" (I think he meant cock-up) and then hit the jackpot with: "We need to accurately reflect the customer experience." His final triumph was to talk about "capturing" statistics. I think he meant collecting.

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