The earthquake insurance man came today. We haven’t suffered too much damage but one aftershock was strong enough to put a few cracks in our bedroom walls and dislodge a few roof tiles. Seeing as we are paying insurance premiums, I thought it would be worth making a claim. He was a rotund chap, the earthquake fellow, jolly in manner and jowly in face. He smiled broadly as he introduced himself and handed my wife a small towel by way of an introductory gift.
‘So may I see the damage?’ he asked.
We took him upstairs and showed him the three lines which were now decorating our bedroom walls. We pointed out of a window to the broken roof tiles. He hummed and hawed a bit and, ominously, he sucked air through his teeth.
‘Can I see your house plans?’ he asked.
‘Should we have them?’ my wife asked.
The man said we would have had them from when the house was built. We told him that the house was second-hand and he sucked air though his teeth again. My wife sent me off to the suitcase that serves as our important documents file and there, amongst countless pieces of paper whose meanings are entirely lost on me, I found a little sketch of a house.
‘Is this it?’ I asked the man.
‘Well, it will do,’ he said.
He looked at the plans for a moment, read a few words written underneath and then wiped a fleshy palm over a slightly sweating face.
‘Chotto…’ he said.
My wife and I looked at each other, knowing that the decision not to pay out had been made.
‘If the house were made of wood…’
I was none the wiser. ‘If the house were made of wood…what?’
‘Look, here,’ he showed my wife the small print. Actually, not the small print, just the print really. ‘If your house were made of wood the cracks and the roof would be covered, but this house…’ He let his meaning sink in.
It was there in writing and I knew better than to try and argue with an insurance company just because we didn’t like the terms we had agreed on at the time.
‘Out of interest,’ I asked. ‘What are we covered for?’
The man explained that were the house to be damaged to more than a tenth of its value we could reclaim some of the costs of repair. Similarly if it collapsed completely we would be eligible for a payment of its approximate value. Importantly, however, that does not mean the full cost of rebuilding and as our house is already very old its value is small. The land is still worth a bit, but not the actual house. So I suspect that if another quake damages my house significantly, I will have to fork out a huge amount to rebuild. But at least I will have my own ground to camp on until I raise the necessary funds. Maybe I should invest in a large tent instead of monthly insurance payments.
The man had come and delivered some bad news and we bowed and thanked him profusely. My wife apologized for having inconvenienced him when he must be very busy.
I’m not fond of insurance companies. Who is? But I can’t say I was surprised. They are the same the world over and if I signed the contract without properly caring about the terms then more fool me. I am concerned about the ‘If your house was wooden…’ thing though. What does that mean? To me it signals that our house not being wooden makes it high risk. After all, that is what insurance companies do, isn’t it. They have get-out clauses for anything which makes it more likely that they will have to pay. An adventure-sport tourist may get insurance including cover for injury resulting from scuba-diving, but this is less likely if he confesses he will do said diving in shark-infested waters in a Lady Gaga-inspired wet suit composed entirely of raw chunks of steak. Why? Because he is a fool who is asking for trouble. Few insurance companies would take on a bet like that.
And so back to me. I have bought an old house that shakes when buses pass. I have bought that house in a very earthquake prone area of the most earthquake prone country in the world. And its not made of wood, which, apparently, adds to my risk. I like living here and will continue to do so, but I now trust the sturdiness of my house as I would trust my erection in a fluffy Hello Kitty condom. It might stay up, but you wouldn’t put money on it.