When rain stops play check the small print

SO NOW you can insure yourself against having your holiday washed out by rain. If you are off in Lerwick (or wherever) for a week, and if at least half an inch of rain falls on four days out of the seven - and if you took your cancellation insurance out with Rothwell and Towler of Sidmouth, Devon - then you would be entitled to a refund of a fifth of the cost of the entire holiday.

This may not sound very generous. The odds of so precise a combination of meteorological circumstances actually happening sound pretty remote to me. But Rothwell and Towler claim that their phones have not stopped ringing and I can well believe it. I know people who would jump at this kind of insurance policy. My father, for example.

He has never knowingly gone on holiday to a place with significant risk of rainfall, but he claims that it always manages to bucket down on him. I keep suggesting that he consider a holiday in the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia or Chile's Atacama Desert (where it has not rained for 400 years), but he refuses on the grounds that the locals are not equipped to deal with the sudden deluges which follow him around wherever he travels.

But the idea that there might be some compensation at the end of his rain tunnel would cast a ray of light over the whole experience. Last summer there were a number of theoretical weeks at various British resorts which might have been wet enough to qualify for a pay-out. And given that the anti-rain policy will cover people equally in the wettest parts of the country as in the driest, I can see pluviophobes like my father heading for the Outer Hebrides for the first time in their lives.

Mind you, rain is but one of the hazards which have been difficult to claim for under traditional travel insurance policies. I think I would have wanted my money back, for example, if I had gone to Paris last week specifically to see the "Millet-Van Gogh" exhibition in the Orsay Museum, only to find that it was closed down for four days by a strike among staff. Fortunately, a spokesperson for Columbus Travel Insurance tells me that although a loss of enjoyment because of rain is not covered by standard policies, a strike in a French museum might be.

The current threat to holidays concerns the possibility of their being curtailed or cancelled due to nasty goings on in the Gulf. All those aggrieved British holiday-makers whose holidays were suddenly cut short without notice last Thursday might well feel that their tour operators' reactions did not seem proportionate to the risk.

True, Israel is in the Middle East, but it is about as far away from Baghdad as London is from Geneva. If I suspected that my holiday had fallen victim to the Foreign Office's propaganda war against Saddam I think I would feel rather aggrieved, too. In fact, the only thing that the Foreign Office actually said was that "non-essential" travel was not advised. What I wonder is whether a long overdue and hard-earned holiday can accurately be described as "non-essential".

Anyway, I flew to Egypt yesterday and am currently heading for the middle of the Sahara Desert. The odds of it raining down here are probably about the same as the odds of my becoming the victim of a poison-gas attack, that is to say fairly slight. The small print of my travel insurance will not cover me for either.

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