It's been hot in Bata this weekend, almost unbearably so, the humidity so intense that to step outside is to feel like you're being covered in a vast warm, wet blanket. A couple of nights ago I slept in what was effectively a squat. There was no lock on the door, no power, no water, no air-con, no Wi-Fi. There was graffiti on the walls, kids playing video games loudly, a stench of sour milk and mosquitoes everywhere. When I got up, having managed perhaps three hours' fevered, broken, uncomfortable sleep, it's fair to say I wasn't in the best of moods, even if I had dreamed Sunderland had beaten Manchester United thanks to a late winner from Dwight Yorke.
I walked to a local hotel, begged and badgered and eventually got a room, which was a huge relief given they've all been booked out for most of the Cup of Nations so far. I had a shower, which made me feel a little better, then two coffees and some toast, which made me feel a lot better, and then, having made my way to the stadium for the two Cup of Nations quarter-finals, found that somebody had tweeted a link to all 89 Australian wickets to fall during the 2005 Ashes. As squally showers strummed on the roof of the stadium and everybody tucked into cheese and ham sandwiches, that made me feel a whole lot perkier.
This was home and it was pleasingly familiar: Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones reverse-swinging it round corners, Steve Harmison's slower ball on the Saturday evening at Edgbaston, the run-outs, diving slip catch after diving slip catch. Inevitably, you remember where you were when each fell: at a wedding at Bamburgh Castle during the Lord's Test, at Wycombe v Carlisle and then on a train to Cardiff during Edgbaston, at a hotel near St Alban's waiting for England footballers on the final day at Old Trafford, at Trent Bridge for the whole of that Test, bar the five hours when I had to dash off to cover West Brom v Birmingham; pounding out mile after mile on a treadmill in the gym during the nervy denouement at The Oval.
They're great memories, happy memories, of the most perfect of sporting moments, when the team that hasn't won in years suddenly finds itself able to fight toe to toe with opponents it had got used to assuming were superior. And yet that thought meant that amid the smiles there was a strange sense of sadness. If there is to be another series like that, it means England will have to be rubbish for two decades straight. Just as there'll never be another Ryder Cup like in 1985. Europe are too good now; it'll never be that much fun again.
There is nothing in sport quite as good as the realisation that the thing you've always dreamed of, the success you've almost written off as impossible is actually happening, that the fallible humans who represent you are somehow holding their own against the demigods of Australia or the US or wherever. (English football, perhaps, has had this only once in my lifetime, when they beat Netherlands 4-1 at Euro '96; what their constant failure means, though, is that if they ever do start winning at a major tournament, it's going to be all the better.)
"If there is to be another series like 2005, it means England will have to be rubbish for two decades straight"
But there was also a more profound feeling, one that is perhaps inherent in nostalgia, which was the sense of an age that has past.
Was that really ten years ago? Look at Harmison, still a prodigious force before the back injuries that have left him hobbling around TV studios. Look at Ashley Giles, spinning it out of the rough rather than sitting in analytic glumness on a balcony. Look at all those future commentators jumping around wearing white. Look at Billy Bowden, Rudi Koertzen, Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar, sparking wild celebrations with the faintest nod of the head before DRS had killed the drama of the lbw appeal. And think of all those you watched it with who are no longer around.
It doesn't feel a decade ago and yet others beside me in the press box had only just gone to senior school when that series happened. It's startling to think I was still writing my first book back then, that I'd only been to one Cup of Nations, and still hadn't been to a World Cup. And perhaps that in the end is the function sport serves for those whose brains recall dates and details: it roots us, provides us with a chronological structure, can take us back to another time and another world, even if we've just spent the night in an Equatoguinean squat.