Humans More Curious Than Cats



According to the thesaurus in my word processor, there are eight synonyms for curious: Inquisitive, inquiring, investigative, nosy, probing, prying, questioning and snoopy. There probably should be a hundred and eight.

It was a beautiful summer day. I was starting a quiet, relaxed drive from RAF Upper Heyford, about twelve miles north of Oxford in England, to my home in the tiny village of Cropredy, a couple of miles north of Banbury, 14 easy miles in all.

As usual, I tuned to the BBC-3 on my car radio, the English station which plays relaxed, sometimes classical, music. But this time the sound coming out of the speakers drew a frown. It was a sort of eee-eee, eee-eee-eee, eee-a-eee-eee, a-eee, a-eee-eee-eee thing, an absolutely unrecognizable, creaking type of sound.

I headed for the rear gate of the base, over on the far side of the runways, waited as a trio of fighter aircraft soared into the air before crossing, and drove through the back gate onto a narrow country road, listening to my radio in fascination and expecting any moment to hear some English announcer come on and apologize for what obviously had to be some kind of technical difficulty.

The drive home through the English countryside, past tiny villages with houses built of time-weathered Cotswold limestone, some of them thatched, others roofed with mossy or lichen-covered tiles, usually lasted 30 or 40 minutes. That day, blessed as usual with light traffic and always-polite English drivers, the drive was no longer than any other day. But it seemed an eternity to me as I listened and waited, expecting any moment to learn at last just what the devil it was I was hearing.

Eee-eee, the radio said. Eee-eee-eee, eee-a-eee-eee, a-eee, a-eee-eee-eee. Creaky-creakedy-creaky-creak. On and on, endlessly.

When I turned off the main road and drove into Cropredy, the radio was still creaking at me. It kept on as I drove past the Brazenose Pub, past the little grocery store, the even smaller hardware store, up a narrow side road and into the cul-de-sac where I lived. I parked on the tiny square of concrete that was my driveway. The eee-eee-eeeing kept on.

It had been a long day. I had taught four hours of teaching methods in the morning, given up my lunch hour to take a five-day-a-week, one-hour-a-day, art history course taught by an Oxford professor who came to the base every day to hold class. My afternoon had been spent working out the details of a tight travel schedule needed to get in each of the classes I had to teach in England, Germany and Italy that year.

It was complicated by the fact that the three semester hour art history class I was taking required no less than seven field trips, one to Oxford, one to Cambridge, four to London, and one to the Louvre in France. And I also had to work in the on-base teaching methods classes where the students came to my classroom on RAF Upper Heyford. Planning can be tiring. I was pooped.

But I was not going to get out of that car until I found out what the devil I was listening to.

I sat there with the radio on for what was probably ten minutes. Then came the announcement for which I had waited so long.

I'm sorry. It has been quite a few years and I'll have to slightly fake the title, but you'll get the idea.

"You have just heard," the announcer said in an absolutely serious voice, "Wadworth's Sonata For a Rusty Screen Door."

I swear I am not kidding. I no longer remember the name of the composer, but that's what the man said. And he said it, as far as I could tell from the sound of his voice, with a straight face.

Because I wanted to know what I was hearing, I had listened to someone squeak a rusty screen door for more than forty minutes.

From that day to this I have believed that when it comes to curiosity, cats take second place to human beings.

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