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My parents’ wills are caught up in a scandal at solicitor | Consumer rights

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My parents died recently. Their wills were held by Coles Solicitors in York, which was forced by the regulator to close last summer.

We were told that the wills and house deeds were in the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) archive and that we had to request their return. We did so in August, and were given an eight-week turnaround. There is still no sign of the documents and we cannot file a probate application without them.

As the SRA is the regulator, there is nobody we can complain to.

LB, York

You have unwittingly been caught in a shocking scandal which has left hundreds of creditors, from the law firm’s employees to HM Revenue and Customs, out of pocket.

Coles was part of Kingly Solicitors, which had 16 branches across the country. It was closed by the SRA in August after £11m of client money was found to be missing. Most was from estates of deceased clients.

The chain was managed by 35-year-old Nurul Miah and the high court was told by the SRA that he spent client funds on a Ferrari 812 Superfast, buying properties, company running costs and unsecured loans.

Those whose money is missing should be able to make a claim via the SRA’s compensation scheme, but unsecured creditors are owed £17m and unlikely to get it back.

The delays you are experiencing are due to the unprecedented volume and chaos of paperwork inherited by the SRA as a result of the intervention. It has received 1,500 requests for documents from clients and so far returned £5m.

It said: “Our partner organisations are working hard to return the very significant volumes of files …while complying with the necessary pandemic arrangements. We know this is worrying and continue to contact people to explain what is happening and apologise for any inconvenience.”

If you need help email [email protected] Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions


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Lastminute.com hasn’t given us a refund for Covid-cancelled flight | Money

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We are among the many people still struggling to get a refund for Covid-cancelled flights booked though Lastminute.com. Our son’s flight from America in May was cancelled by Austrian Airlines in April and, after very many emails, we got a reply from Lastminute.com in June, offering a refund of £517.

No payment was received. In November, an email told us we had to provide bank details. Then, without explanation, it reduced the amount to £173 and said we had to accept within three months.

We have sent numerous emails. There is no working phone line. The airline has told us twice it has repaid Lastminute.com, but can’t give the sum, and says we must contact the agent.

SL, Lewes

It will be little consolation to know that you are not alone – Lastminute.com has been one of our most complained-about travel firms in recent months. In December the Competition and Markets Authority forced it to start refunding passengers following an investigation.

After a great deal of pressure on my part, Switzerland-based Lastminute.com finally agreed to call you. You have accepted the £173 to put an end to the matter. It seems the company had replied to your emails, albeit from a different address, and these ended up in your spam folder.

When things finally get back to normal, you might want to stick to UK-based travel agents or, better still, book flights with airlines direct.We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at [email protected] Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at [email protected] Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions


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Come on in! The exhilarating joy of outdoor ice-bathing | Swimming holidays

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The path to the water is treacherous. The snow has covered the ice making it slippery underfoot. It is 7.45 am and dark, but my friend Vicky and I have head torches and the moon is bright.

Our walk – prior to lockdown 2021 – is through the woods and down the path to the edge of Threipmuir reservoir in the Pentland hills, just south of Edinburgh. It is impossible to tell where the water starts as everything is covered in a thick layer of snow. And the snow is also coming down in earnest, landing on our eyelashes and into our dry bags, as we unpack and start to undress.

Once stripped to our swimsuits, neoprene boots, gloves and woolly hats, we approach the ice. A pickaxe makes little impact to begin with, but we continue with one of us using the axe while the other smashes away with boots and moves huge chunks of ice with our hands. It is quite a workout and seems so ridiculous that we laugh until we have tears rolling down our faces.

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• Preparation is key as ice-bathing can potentially be a dangerous pastime in the UK, as we don’t have places, such as Finland, where there are 260 winter-swimming centres, which often include changing facilities and saunas – as well as specific entry and exit points in the ice. 

• Ice-bathing must always be approached with caution, never alone, and having risk assessed the location first. Acclimatise to cold water carefully, keeping your dip short and warming up quickly afterwards with layers of clothes and a hot drink. 

 • Going in to very cold water (typically less than 10C) can cause numbness and pain, particularly in the extremities, such as the hands and feet. Neoprene socks and gloves can help protect hands and feet. 

• The Outdoor Swimming Society has tips on how to acclimatise to cold water

After about five minutes, we start to make headway, working as a team to create a little plunge pool. When we visited two days previously we were able to clear a long swimming channel, but today the ice is too thick. A flock of Canada geese fly past, skimming the top of the ice, and a bullfinch hops around the shoreline, its pinkish plumage the only colour visible in this white landscape. Finally, we have cleared enough ice to swim.

Wendy and her friend Tracey break the ice.
Wendy and Tracey brave the ice

Preparation is key as ice-bathing can potentially be a dangerous pastime in the UK, as we don’t have the infrastructure of places such as Finland, where there are 260 winter-swimming centres which often include changing facilities and saunas – as well as specific entry and exit points in the ice. Here, we often need to look to more remote spots in order to find ice, which adds a huge element of risk to the process.

It must always be approached with caution, never alone, and having risk assessed the location first. Acclimatise to cold water carefully, keeping your dip short and warming up quickly afterwards with layers of clothes and a hot drink.

I lower myself down into the 0.8C water until my shoulders are beneath the surface, and try to calm my breathing and bring my heart rate down as I absorb the shock of the cold. Even though I have swum through four winters, my body’s automatic response to the extreme cold is still powerful.

I try to remain calm, swimming a few strokes and trying to avoid the ice shards, which can cut. Despite having gloves and socks, my fingers and toes are are numb, my body sending all available heat to my core. I feel utterly alive and exhilarated, though. But there is a fine line between fun and hypothermia, so we tear ourselves away as the dawn light turns the mountains pink. Beginners should stay in the water for two minutes maximum.

Ice swimming in Scotland
Vicky, the writer’s friend, takes the plunge

Then it is a race to warm up, using cold, muddled fingers to put socks on top of socks and more layers than you imagine possible, pouring hot drinks from flasks, doing star jumps and squats to get the body warmed back up. Though the massive rush of energy and unbridled joy far outweigh thoughts of frozen toes.

As we are packing up to leave, we hear belly laughs and people approaching through the snow, and then encounter three women armed with an axe and a rolling pin to continue what we started. As the hilarity of the moment hits them, Wendy Masterton tells us: “We’ve been cold-water swimming with ice around the edges before but this is the first time we’ll actually experience breaking the ice in order to get into the water.”

Outdoor swimming has seen a dramatic rise in popularity over the last year. As swimming pools closed due to Covid restrictions and holidays were cancelled, many people turned to their local beach, river, loch or lake to swim. And many have continued, despite the reopening of some pools during summer and early autumn. The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) has seen website traffic increase by 46% to 785,000 unique users and membership increase 36% to 136,000; its Facebook group has grown by 73%.

In addition, local wild swimming groups have reported to the OSS growths in membership of their Facebook pages of between 50% to 500%. Open water lakes are also reporting a huge increase in visitors .

“Outdoor swimming is now part of the UK psyche, part of our love of free-spirited adventure,” says OSS founder Kate Rew. “People are looking for exercise and adventure closer to home, thousands have made this their time to embrace rivers, lakes and the sea. For some, it is about self-sufficiency and stoicism: the perfect activity for a life under the pressures of a pandemic. I think others are winter swimming to achieve a high that we can’t get anywhere else right now.”

A study by Dr Chris van Tulleken and Dr Mark Harper, published by the BMJ, discovered that “regular open-water swimming results in a post-swim ‘high’, triggered by the release of beta-endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Furthermore, facial immersion in cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, resulting in an anti-inflammatory response.”

ice swimming in Scotland
‘Same time tomorrow?’

Ice swimming, once only attempted by a few hardy souls, has been dominating Instagram feeds this winter as more swimmers seek out the extreme cold. Claire Williams began outdoor swimming at Wardie Bay, Edinburgh, in May after losing her mother to dementia

“Outdoor swimming has helped me massively, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and also just the peace I’ve found from being in the cold water,” she says. “With the new research suggesting cold-water swimming wards off dementia, I will never ever give it up. I only wish my mum had been around to enjoy it with me.”

Cassandra Barron had her first ice swim at Threipmuir reservoir earlier this month after taking up swimming in the sea at Wardie Bay during the spring lockdown.

“I have swum every day in January so far and wanted to push myself further so I had my first exhilarating ice-swimming experience this week,” she says.

In Scotland [as in England], we are still able to exercise outdoors within our local area with one person from another household, so outdoor swimmers who live near water are able to meet with another person during this time, providing a lifeline for those who swim to help deal with the stress of the pandemic.

It might be extreme but immersing yourself in icy water is a wonderful way to fill up with endorphins, get a nature fix and have a thrilling adventure without having to travel.

The OSS’s tips on acclimatising to cold water

Taking The Plunge by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan, is published by Black & White publishing. Follow Anna on Instagram at @wildswimmingstories



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The biggest secret parents keep? The life-changing brilliance of teenagers | Family

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A friend has fallen in love with Depop, the Gen Z fashion eBay, and its teen sellers. I downloaded the app on her recommendation, but I am bamboozled by the listings: a “perf lil crop top” appears to be a shirt collar and sleeves without any other shirt parts; a corset is “for dat peek-a-boo bad b lewwkkk … wear her alone and sessi or over your fav big T”. I feel 1,000 years old.

“I message them questions because the listings are lacking useful info, such as what size it is, and they answer almost entirely in emojis and put kisses after everything, and I love them,” says my friend.

The fashion is emphatically not for me, but I understand. She has stumbled on something that is, mysteriously, a closely guarded secret: how great teenagers are. There is a sort of omertà among parents of teens to talk only about the attitude and wet towels. Why? Do we want to keep them to ourselves?

Because nothing is as life-affirming as a half-hour audience with teenagers. I am not just saying it because I have two: I used to have toddlers, and you would never have heard me say they were basically misunderstood and a delight to be around.

Teenagers – not mine specifically – are creative, compassionate and careful of others; they are stoic about their constrained lives. Mine make me laugh and think constantly: this week alone about my attitude to other people’s success (wrong), my upper body strength (abysmal) and Japanese abstract expressionism (unexpected).

When we do talk positively about teens, it is in a breezy, how-marvellous-is-Greta-Thunberg way. This “young people will save us” discourse is well meant, but I hate it: it is a shrug of helplessness. Their mental health is in freefall, their present bleak and their future grimly unknowable. Teens are great, but, for all the ebullience, emojis and TikTok routines, they are fragile. It is still up to us to try to make things OK for them: we are the grownups, after all.


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