Sky Sports are advertising their exhaustive coverage of the Ashes by reproducing in all national newspapers a sweet painting of their main cricket presenters – if the image of an unshaven Sir Ian Botham can ever be called sweet – with ties askew and bleary-eyed, the message being that the poor loves have had to stay up all night. This, of course, is misleading. They are all fully adjusted to the 10-hour time difference, while we're the ones meandering zombie-like through the day after staying up until the wee small hours to watch the action from Brisbane.
That said, there is a rather bracing masochism about subjecting oneself to such tiredness in the name of sport, and I think it derives from memories of childhood. In 2005 I took my son Joe, then aged 10, to the last day of the third Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester, for what turned out to be one of the most compelling days in the most compelling of Ashes series (I offer no apology to those readers who consider cricket to be a marginally less compelling spectacle than a knitting marathon; the fact is that you're the ones deserving of pity, not us).
We were ticketless, and to stand a chance of getting in we had to leave our home in Herefordshire at 4am. By 7am we had parked the car and were standing about 8,476th, and 8,477th, in an enormous, snaking queue. But after three hours we passed through the turnstiles, and watched a fantastic contest between two great sides, which ended in the five-day match being drawn (again, I offer no apologies).
Afterwards, stuck in traffic on the benighted M6, I asked Joe what had been his favourite bits of the day? The remarkable batsmanship of Aussie captain Ricky Ponting, perhaps? The stirring sight of "Freddie" Flintoff steaming in to bowl? He thought long and hard. "I think," he eventually said, "that it was getting up so early in the morning, and the Mexican Wave." I understood. Among my own fondest memories of boyhood are being gently woken by my father to watch the Moon landing in 1969, and to follow the great heavyweight boxing contests of the early 1970s. I can remember it vividly, putting on my dressing-gown and creeping downstairs so as not to wake up my mother.
But here's a funny thing. The boxing promoter Frank Warren assured me recently that those big fights were never covered live on British telly. It is a common delusion among my generation, apparently; the disappointing truth is that we were never woken by our fathers in the dead of night to watch Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, which leaves us only with the Moon landing. And that, despite my dad's manifest excitement, entirely failed to grip me. It was crackly and blurry and I couldn't tell what was happening.
Whatever, nostalgia plays some mischievous tricks on us; those rose-tinted glasses afford distinctly limited vision. It could even be that Joe's memories of Old Trafford in 2005 stem mainly from me telling the tale. But I do know that I've been staying up very late indeed to watch the Ashes, because I'm not functioning properly. I've just found the telephone in the fridge.
A perfect setting for royal spouses-to-be
We published a splendid reader's letter on Wednesday: Robert Davies from London SE3 suggested that, by becoming engaged to someone who "a generation ago would have been way below his social radar", Prince William is following the continental pattern started by Sweden, possibly as a "Darwinian exercise in gene-pool refreshment". This reminded me of my wife Jane's firm belief that leading members of the royal family simply should not be permitted to marry attractive commoners. She thinks that the price for being born into such privilege should be a limited market of potential spouses from other European royal families, theoretically leaving William with the choice between a fat Spanish princess, and a slightly boss-eyed one from the Netherlands.
I take the opposite view, as proffered by Mr Davies. Moreover, I couldn't be happier that romance blossomed for William and Kate Middleton at St Andrews University, where I spent four fulfilling years myself between 1981 and 1985. Apparently, the ratio of students who meet at university and later get married is much higher at St Andrews than anywhere else; I can certainly think of a dozen of my own contemporaries who tied the knot.
It's no surprise, really, given the wonderful medieval town's relative remoteness on the east coast of Scotland, and the need, sometimes, to huddle together for warmth. To say nothing of those undergraduates who are packed off principally to hook a rich or titled husband, or wife. Not that I would dream of suggesting such a thing of the Middletons.
I'm thinking what you're thinking, Parky
Sir Michael Parkinson has been sticking the Barnsley boot into another cultural giant of our times. It's not so long since Parky went on The Richard Bacon Show on Radio 5 Live and said he "couldn't see the point" of Russell Brand, which Bacon found mightily offensive, and now he's turned his ire on Simon Cowell, thundering that the TV mogul is "dictating the shape and form of television in this country", and not for the better.
For the record, I'm with Parky. I'd hate to sound like another cantankerous old northerner, out of step with the people, but I think I've become physically allergic to The X Factor.