Mark Steel: Ashes series are such an awful addiction my family have learnt coping methods

My Ashes: During that 1982 match that England won by three runs I was living in a filthy squat. We huddled around the radio amid the mould

For some of us the Ashes, especially in Australia, aren't so much a contest as an addiction, or maybe a mental illness. The house could be ablaze, and you'd be wandering through the rubble pestering firemen by saying: "You don't know if Ponting's out yet, do you?" If your partner offers to make love, they know it's on the understanding they mustn't make too much noise otherwise you won't hear whether England have taken the new ball.

Your family learns coping methods, much as they would if you were a crackhead, and if there was any justice you'd qualify as disabled and get a sticker for your car and a ramp in the house.

Last time, I saw the first day's play in a sports bar in central London that was jammed with about 500 people watching Harmison's opening ball in which he bowled it almost sideways, causing a world record for the largest number of people to yell the words "Oh for fuck's sake," in perfect synchronicity.

But the other glorious moment came when I finally surrendered to nature and accepted I'd have to go to the toilet and miss an over. And there I discovered a thing of pure beauty, a line of miniature screens tastefully placed at head height above the urinal so there's no need to miss a single ball. As a rare English delivery passed Langer's bat, a whole line of men, mid-pee, leaned back together as if choreographed and went "Wooo".

Ashes series are like music in their ability to provide a backdrop to your life. I remember the 1982 match when England won by three runs with a shambolic catch, because I was listening with my co-habitees in a filthy squat, huddled round a radio amid the mould while someone experimented by smoking the leaves of a rubber plant. In 1986-87 I was in a council flat, leaving the radio on all night but occasionally falling asleep. But at some level I must have still been following the commentary because I'd have these weird dreams such as making an apple crumble with Allan Border or fighting off a rhino with Graham Gooch and a set of stumps.

My first day in London with my mates but no adults was at The Oval to see Australia reach about 300 for 1, and I followed the dramatic last hours of the 2005 Edgbaston Test in a hotel room on holiday. When Geraint Jones took that final catch there were yells from every room in the building, and for the rest of the summer millions began the day by asking "Did you see the cricket?" It felt like being a scientist who'd spent his life defending a theory, but everyone else thought he was crazy, and now finally he'd proved right, as those who'd derided cricket as a pointless exercise started to follow every moment. But they were right the first time. It is pointless. And that is its ceaseless, glorious beauty.

Which is why the debate about whether we should still put the clocks back for the winter has an obvious solution. Instead, for the next 10 weeks they should be put forward by 11 hours, so we can watch every ball and still get a decent night's sleep.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture