Alan's Blog





I am often amazed by the sheer energy that some people seem to be able to generate within themselves in order to accomplish whatever it is they want to achieve. This is a gift I’ve never been blessed as having any more than I have the gift of music – for which I have no talent at all.

People often ascribe this energy to young people only, but this is certainly not the case, although being young undoubtedly helps. Imagine, if you can, the amount of energy required to run the entire country throughout World War II as did Sir Winston Churchill (read Finest Hour by Max Hastings to gain some understanding of this). In addition to this he was a prolific writer, employing a team of six researchers as well as a team of typists working shifts around the clock. He was also an accomplished artist (painter).

Some years ago, I was reading a massive tome, a manual about a how to use a complex computer program. The author was a young lady, in her very early thirties. She was very highly qualified, was employed as a university professor, had written a number of previously published books, was married with a family – and two Labradors. How had she accomplished all this at such a young age? As a mere mortal it really put me to shame. It would have taken me several years to write the book – without doing all the other tasks she was involved with. How did she find the time, and energy, to do all these activities? And imagine the stress that comes with doing all these tasks simultaneously – let alone running the country as well as Churchill did during the worst episode of this country’s history. Unimaginable to us mere mortals. Just thinking about all this makes me feel tired.

I’m currently reading a biography about Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian pioneer of polar exploration before the days of Peary, Amundsen (both of whom he met), Scott (who'd had no experience with snow and ice and who spent some time with Nansen and then, rather stupidly, totally disregarded his advice - which is probably why he (and two other men) ended up dead - a failure - what's so heroic about that?), and Shackleton. What I also learned from this book, Nansen by Roland Huntford, was that he was also a pioneer in neuroscience. The phenomenal energy, physical and mental, that Nansen had as a young man is almost beyond belief. Try and imagine how you might cope with completing your PhD thesis and, at the same time, organising a trip that would involve a small team of people being the first to complete the crossing of Greenland (read: The First Crossing of Greenland - in two volumes – about 1000 pages in total, first published in 1890). Organising this, the logistics and equipment design involved would make most people give up before getting started – let alone working on a very controversial, pioneering PhD in neuroscience at the same time (the final examination, a disputation, was held only four days before the expedition departed) – and crossing Norway (between Bergen and Oslo) on skis in the winter, alone, a number of times whilst these activities were going on. How did he cope with such high levels of stress too? And all this by the age of 27!

I recently read about a Chinese man who was writing a serialised novel on line. He had a huge number of followers waiting for every chapter to go on line. His main job was working as a policeman and yet he still had the energy to write his novel every day; to the extent that he was only getting three hours sleep per night. He wrote something every day as this was his passion by which he was driven. How did he live like this?

Where does this energy come from?  Many years ago, I had a friend aged well in his sixties who seemed to have boundless energy. I asked him this very question. He said he didn’t know where his energy came from, it was just there. It must be a great motivational force to be able to muster this energy to drive one’s passion in whatever project is needed to be undertaken. I wish I could have this level of energy.

I’ve never been considered as being lazy and indeed have worked hard throughout my life to support myself and my families and yet I have never had that energy or drive to accomplish more, let alone greater, things. You cannot imagine how frustrating this is as there are still, at my age of almost 70, many things I’d like to accomplish and yet I don’t seem to be able to generate the energy required to do so; the energy to motivate me to start and see them through. When I think of a project that I'd like to do my initial enthusiasm lasts for a few minutes before my brain tells me that "I can't be bothered" – and that's it – end of story. How sad.

In fact, I’d very much like to attend university to study for a M.Sc. degree, but, as Grace asked me only today, unprompted, when I mentioned that I’d found a course at Manchester University that appealed to me “Do you have the energy to do it?” She certainly hit the nail on the head with her question as I’d been asking myself that too – and I still don’t have the answer.

Sometimes I wonder if this is ‘all in the mind’, yet I don’t feel this is entirely, if at all the case – mainly because I often feel so physically tired even after doing very little in the way of expending energy. This isn’t something new to me as I grow older. I’ve always been that way. I could never run very far without running out of steam. I couldn’t even do a lap of the running track (440 yards) at my high school without having to stop for a rest, or at least, to continue round at a slow walking pace, and as for cross-country runs; forget that idea immediately. Doing anything physical has always been a practical impossibility; the only exception being that I could keep going for rather longer on a bicycle – not that I’d ever be a racer – more like a steady plodder. Fortunately, I’ve never had to do a very physically demanding job. I did try a couple of physically demanding jobs as a youngster still at school (during the school holidays and weekends) but I soon realised that I couldn’t cope with that type of work. I’m just not made that way.

There are many times when I could blame a lack of sleep for my lack of energy. I rarely have a good night’s sleep however, I wonder if this is because I don’t expend much physical energy and therefore don’t need as much sleep I try to obtain. On the odd occasion that I do get a good sleep I feel like a new man in the morning, although I still have nothing like the amount of energy I really need to achieve much more than I do. I just feel better for it. One of the reasons I don’t sleep well is because my brain often can’t stop thinking. I always have something buzzing around inside my brain – rather like an angry wasp!

I also truly believe that, in my case, the weather is a massive disincentive. Rarely do we enjoy very much warmth and sunshine. The consequent lack of vitamin E must have an affect on me as I've always been a 'sunshine' person. When I've lived in hot countries I've been much more energetic and have enjoyed being outside walking or cycling or going out to take photographs. Here in the UK I hardly step outside the house unless it's essential for me to do so. The cold and rain really has a very negative affect on me.

I can only assume that there is some form of energy generator in our body which has a limit in its output – and mine has only a low power output – and only runs for short periods of time. It’s now time for me to go for a lay down – writing this is has been an exhausting business.