On December 16, Monday night, I lived dangerously. I brewed, and drank, a strong cup of tea "late" at night: 9:45pm, to be precise. I was reckless and irresponsible; I knew the caffeine would keep me awake well past midnight. (Such, such are the adventures of the formerly youthful.)
I committed this foolhardy act knowing my bedside alarm clock would not budge in sympathetic response to my late hour of sleep; its persistent tones would go off, as they always do, given the rhythms of our household, at the usual 6am. And then, I would experience that most dreaded of sensations, one I've become all too familiar with over the past year, ever since my daughter made her appearance on this planet: a discombobulated under-slept state of being, body and mind split asunder, cortisol levels spiked, a dense fog settled over my brain cells, making it impossible to think, read, or write clearly. My usual stint at the university library would be marked by naps and a nodding head, not by pages read or words written. Put another day down in the "unproductive" column for my sabbatical.
I had, as might be guessed, decided to stay up late to witness the conclusion of a Test match, the third of the current Ashes. Australia stood to regain the urn, and I supposed there would be some drama on display. So I took the plunge. (And made a cup of tea.)
Normally, of course, Tests in Australia do not extract such a heavy toll. Cricket exiles on the US east coast welcome their usual 7pm start; it lets us watch three hours of play in relative comfort. But the third Test of the current Ashes series was staged in Perth; the staggering expanses of the Australian land mass bring Perth Tests' starting times closer to the dreaded 11pm start for games played in India. Perth makes you think, just a little harder, about the sacrifices you are willing to make to watch a Test.
An all-nighter for cricket is not unknown to most serious fans of the game. We might have done it for the fifth day of a Test - or all five days! - or a World Cup final, or sometimes just because our favourite batsman is batting and we can't bear to go to bed, knowing that he'll be batting away as we turn in. We recount tales of these nocturnal adventures with some pride, in a display of accumulated badges of fandom. The price paid - the discomfort described above - is felt to be small too; the cost-benefit analysis is all too easily skewed in favour of watching the game. Highlights would not be enough, and sometimes, in a particularly self-absorbed sporting fallacy, we dare imagine our watching the game might actually help "our team".
Adult life, its increased responsibilities, and sadly, the weakening of the proverbial flesh, bring out some diminishment of this enthusiasm. Sleep emerges as that most precious of commodities; our bedtimes recede just a little bit. We turn off the television set, the computer monitor, with some regret and retreat to the wrong kind of cover. We resign ourselves to the score update with the morning cuppa, the recapitulation via highlights; we resign ourselves to a vignette, a fragment, rather than the whole thing, every contour of its temporal development made visible.
But every once in a while the old madness asserts itself. Prudence seems overrated; live action regains its former lustre. We seek to become witnesses of events as they happened, not scholars poring over archival stores. We pay for this indulgence. And perhaps the toll so exacted warns us off too rapid a repeat of this adventure.
For some of us moth-like creatures, not for ever. The flame will, in all probability, beckon again.