David Cameron met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday for talks on the Syrian crisis amid fears that differences between Moscow and the west are pushing the two sides towards a new cold war. The meeting, on the eve of the G8 summit in Lough Erne, came as the US president, Barack Obama, prepares to arm the rebels, saying the US administration is convinced the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. Putin has made no secret of his opposition to any move by the west to supply arms to the Syrian opposition. Full story >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon, by Paul Thomas from The Daily Express, shows Cameron and Putin holding a press conference (the furry things in the foreground are microphones) beside the fireplace in Number 10. Putin says, "That's enough about Syria — now, is Kate expecting a girl or boy?"
The Observer reports that more than 5,000 untrained teachers who have been allowed to work in academies and free schools under Michael Gove's education reforms will be sacked if Labour wins the next election, unless they gain a formal qualification within two years. Full story >>
VOCABULARY The sack is being told by your employer that you can no longer continue working for a company, etc, usually because of something that you have done wrong. • Her work was so poor that she was given the sack.
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Morten Morland from The Times shows Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron standing on top of a building with boxes full of weapons, including grenades and rocket launchers. Down below in the street, a violent conflict is raging. Obama calls out, "Hands up if you're one of the good guys!"
EXPLANATION One reason why the Obama administration has hesitated so long over arming the Syrian opposition is the risk of seeing U.S. weapons fall into the hands of extremist groups among the rebels. In fact, it is virtually impossible to know where the weapons will end end up, and some rebel groups are reported to be fighting each other. Hence Obama's rather desperate attempt to identify "the good guys".
LANGUAGE "Hands up" is an expression meaning "Put your hands in the air". Although this expression is used when ordering someone to surrender (Hands up! We've got you surrounded.), it is also used, as here, when asking people to identify themselves or volunteer. For example, a teacher might say to her class, "Hands up if you know the answer."
As security tightens in Northern Ireland ahead of Monday's G8 summit, Hayley Platt takes a look at the issues likely to be on the leaders' agenda.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Security tightens in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland ahead of next weeks' G8 summit. The remote location was specifically chosen by the British government to deter potential trouble-makers. Twenty-six years ago it was the target of an IRA bomb attack which killed eleven people and injured dozens more. Police say they're not taking any chances. CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT PAULINE SHIELDS: "The threat across Northern Ireland is classified as severe and that's what it was prior to G8 and the arrival of G8 hasn't changed that." REPORTER: British Prime Minister David Cameron says the G8 is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to shine. DAVID CAMERON: "That summit is a great opportunity to show the world a Northern Ireland to the world that is open for business, for investment and for tourism." REPORTER: He's promised to put tax evasion and agressive avoidance at the heart of the meeting, estimated to cost governments around the world around $3 trillion dollars a year in lost revenue. It follows public outcry over revelations that companies like Starbucks have used clever tax planning and exploited loopholes to reduce their taxes. Simon Wagman is a partner at chartered accountants Blick Rothenberg. He says it's difficult to say whether the G8 summit will bring meaningful tax reform. SIMON WAGMAN: "Will the likes of Google and Amazon pay more tax in the UK? They may do, they may not do. But they certainly may pay more tax globally. And if it's into a US coffer, if it's into another EU jurisdiction, that's raising tax which can only be good. Obviously each government will have their own axe to grind as to whether it's coming to their coffers to spend on their own infrastructure and the costs that they need within their territory. So I'm sure there will be a lot of talk and I'm sure there will be things that come out of it because it's such a hot topic but realistically who knows what's going to happen?" REPORTER: It's an issue close to the heart of these protesters who chose to demonstrate against capitalism in London's Canary Wharf, home to banks such as Barclays and JP Morgan. They're accusing governments of failing to take action against large companies dodging their tax responsibilities, and say ordinary people are paying for the financial crisis. The two-day G8 summit of world leaders gets underway on Monday.
VOCABULARY The Mail's headline is a play on the word honours. In Britain, the honours list is the list of people who have been selected to receive titles or awards from the Queen because of their achievements. However, The Mail doesn't think that some of this year's recipients deserve their honours, so they've changed it to "dishonours". Dishonour is a state in which people disapprove of you and lose their respect for you. • Profumo served penance for parliamentary dishonour with more than 30 years of charity work among the poor in the East End of London. Note that dishonour is an uncountable noun and not usually used in the plural form.
THE STORY The Duchess of Cambridge named a cruise ship yesterday on her last solo engagement before maternity leave. Kate, who is due to give birth in a month's time, flew by helicopter to Southampton to attend a colourful naming ceremony for Royal Princess, a new 141,000-tonne cruise liner at the city's Ocean Terminal. As the ship's Godmother, she was following in the footsteps of the Queen, the late Princess Diana and other senior royals in upholding a tradition of members of the family launching vessels. Read more >>
VOCABULARY 1. If you smash something, you break it into many pieces. • He smashed the radio to pieces. 2. If you describe something or someone as smashing, you mean that you like them very much. • We had a smashing time at the party.
The world toe wrestling championships have contestants on their toes in rural Derbyshire in northern England. Elly Park reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: It's a competition requiring brute strength, concentration and balance. Once again wrestlers gathered in Derbyshire [pron: darby-sher] in northern England to go head to head … or rather toe to toe to win the top title at the world toe wrestling championships. And no smelly feet are allowed. After a hygiene check, competitors take part in best of three knockout duels until a winner is decided. Alan "Nasty" Nash is the undisputed favorite after winning the title nine times in the past. ALAN "NASTY" NASH: "Toe wrestling is a sport the British are fantastic at that nobody else can do. It's like arm-wrestling, but you just use your legs instead." REPORTER: Sounds simple ... but for most contestants surprisingly painful. In the end Nash reclaimed his crown for a tenth time, while in the women's draw Becca Beech won her title for the second consecutive year.
TOE IDIOMS 1. If you say that someone or something keeps you on your toes, you mean that they cause you to remain alert and ready for anything that might happen. 2. If you toe the line, you behave in the way that people in authority expect you. 3. If you tread (or step) on someone's toes, you offend them by criticizing the way that they do something or by interfering in their affairs. 4. If you dip your toes into something or dip your toes into the waters of something, you start doing that thing slowly and carefully, because you are not sure whether it will be successful or whether you will like it. 5. If something makes your toes curl, it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. 6. A toe-to-toe argument, etc., is one in which two people or groups are directly opposed to each other.
The Daily Mail reports that a gang of criminals are to claim compensation for whiplash after their prison vans crashed into each other on the way to a trial. Full story >>
VOCABULARY Whiplash is a neck injury caused by the head suddenly moving forwards and then back again, for example in a car accident. • Up to 60% of the whiplash claims brought by car drivers or passengers after accidents are either fraudulent or exaggerated.
The chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, Stephen Hester, was forced out of his job on Wednesday with a payoff at least £1.6m as the bailed-out bank started preparations for privatisation next year. Full story >>
IDIOM If you clear the decks (informal), you prepare for an activity, event, etc. by removing anything that is not essential to it. • The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday cleared the decks for the merger of Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Satyam. This expression originated in naval warfare, when it described preparing for battle by removing or fastening down all loose objects on the ship's decks.
BACKGROUND This cartoon by Paul Thomas from The Daily Express relates to UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to ban fizzy drinks from all schools under Government efforts to slash spiralling obesity rates. State schools are already banned from selling fizzy drinks, as well as junk food, sweets and crisps, under guidelines introduced by Labour in 2007. But academy schools and new free schools are not under local council control. Full story >>
COMMENTARY The cartoon shows three schoolchildren in their school uniforms on their way to school. One of the boys, seeing a newspaper hoarding about the fizzy drink ban, comments, "Especially lager and cider ..."
EXPLANATION The suggestion is that the government should be more worried about children drinking alcoholic drinks such as cider and lager.
VOCABULARY 1. Cider is a drink made from apples which in Britain usually contains alcohol. 2. Lager is a type of light beer. 3. Fizzy drinks are drinks that contain small bubbles of carbon dioxide.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Is this another example of the "nanny state" in action, or an essential measure to protect children's health. 2. What other things would you ban from schools? 3. Should the ban on fizzy drinks be extended to other areas? 4. Is a ban on fizzy drinks in schools an effective measure to combat child obesity?
BACKGROUND In his first public comments since the Guardian disclosed GCHQ's alleged role in the US-run Prism programme, foreign secretary William Hague said Britain's electronic and eavesdropping headquarters always acted within the law. In an interview on BBC television, he added, "If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear – nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that." Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Adams from The Daily Telegraph shows William Hague looking for all the world as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, and telling us, "You have nothing to fear from me." The fact that "me" is underlined is significant, since the message of the cartoon is that we may have nothing to fear from Hague, but we have everything to fear from the U.S. intelligence-gathering behemoth to which Hague (and by extension the British intelligence agency GCHQ) is connected.
The Daily Telegraph says Labour would cap spending on the state pension if the party wins the next election. Full story >>
VOCABULARY If the government caps an organization, council, or budget, it limits the amount of money that the organization or council is allowed to spend, or limits the size of the budget. • The Secretary of State for Environment has the power to cap councils which spend excessively.
The Observer says ministers will respond in parliament to claims GCHQ gathered intelligence through a controversial US spying agency. Full story >>
VOCABULARY You can refer to information as data, especially when it is in the form of facts or statistics that you can analyse. In American English, data can be a singular or a plural noun. The data is compelling and The data are compelling are both correct. In technical or formal British English, data is sometimes a plural noun, but at other times, it is an uncount noun, as in The data highlights some interesting trends.
For the 401st year, the brutal shin kicking championships returned to the Cotswold Olimpicks at Dover's Hill in England. Sharon Reich reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Believe it or not, shin kicking is considered a sport, at least in this rural English town. For over four centuries local contestants have been competing in the shin kicking championships in Dover's Hill. In fact, it's one of the area's most popular events, but the brutality means that very few are brave enough to return for a second year. Except this time. Last year's champion 24-year-old Zak Warren decided to defend his crown, despite the pain. ZAK WARREN: "This year I'm not going to stand about like I did so much last year taking blows because I was worried about coming anyway due to my knee. I'm just literally going to go straight out this year and try wipe them straight to the floor before they get the chance to hit me, but we'll see, we'll see." REPORTER: The origins of the sport seem fairly lost in time, but one thing is sure -- this variation of wresting can be excruciating. Warren's opponent in the final was first-time contestant Jeremy Soper who left his footprint on the crowd after turning up in shorts ... That meant he had to improvise when it came to the traditional method of stuffing your pants with hay to limit the damage of the blows. By the time the final came around, Soper had found a pair of long pants. JEREMY SOPER: "Thanks goes to the guy how lent me these trousers, I couldn't have done it without him." REPORTER: In the end, Warren took the crown again - becoming a rare second year shin-kicking champion.
VOCABULARY Your shins are the front parts of your legs between your knees and your ankles.