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Julius Miles is a mathematical genius, but he is hefty of frame, awkward with the opposite sex and struggling to bring his existence into balance. When he stumbles across the girl next door naked and dead on her Victorian tiles, he starts to unravel the one equation that's eluded him: that of his own life. And so it is that with the most unlikely of assistantsa transsexual Cupid with a penchant for drugshe embarks on a quest to find the truth about love, death, family, and how, ultimately, you make your numbers happy.
About the Author
Jim Keeble is the author of Men and Other Mammals. He also has worked as a screenwriter for Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, John Landis, and Kenneth Branagh.
Date of Birth:September 9, 1968
Place of Birth:Cambridge, England
Education:B.A., Oxford University, 1991
Read an Excerpt
The Happy Numbers of Julius Miles
By Jim Keeble
Alma Books LtdCopyright © 2012 Jim Keeble
All rights reserved.
Some things change and some things don't. In my experience it's never the things we expect. These streets have changed, the dark tarmac is less scarred, the once dull rain of London's East End now silver against chrome and glass. And I've changed — I do this now. I find people love.
They need it, as jobs vanish, accounts empty and passion is crunched in the rush to survive. It's a calling, don't think it isn't. I know this because when they touch for the first time I feel the hit. Like a seventy-proof shot or the first pill of the day. The electric. The beautiful fuzz.
The polaroid wouldn't tell you anything. A woman in her early forties, dark-brown hair cut in a bob more fashionable than not, flat masculine face like a lifelong nun, but hey she's got a smile that saves the day. Jeans and trainers, blouse and anorak. Social worker, religious pesterer, private detective. You don't look at me twice in this city. But I'm the real deal. A Cupid. A god of love.
I walk the streets of Bethnal Green, the soiled, boiled gutter of London, where all gets swept eventually. I grew up here, kissed here, lost my heart here. My father killed here. And now I sit on my bench and wait for the job to start.
He's on his way, the latest on my list. I notice him from afar, two heads above the Bangladeshis, a head above the Somalis, bowed like a monk doing his liturgical rounds, in meditation, not prayer. Julius Miles breathes in numbers and spins out silken mathematics that swirl and settle around him like armour. His business, statistical summaries. If they were spells, this guy would be the High Wizard. And who am I to say such magic does not exist? I'm no Einstein. Numbers make me laugh.
It's a spring day, which means low clouds over the tower blocks and yellow smears of daffodils ripped by kids or dogs from their half-dug council beds.
But Julius doesn't see such artistry — he's the Emperor of measurement, a professional statistician working for the Barts Health NHS Trust based at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, East London. His face is simple, square. English. Spade of a nose. No beauty intrinsic in his features, but those dark, sad eyebrows draw us ladies to him. Broad shoulders, bowing calves like a butcher's hams, trunk slouching forward to conceal his height. Six foot four. 1.93 metres. Size 13 shoes.
Julius has the big man's desire for small women. But this giant is clumsy, except in his head. The pixies he's attracted to he pushes away. Nervous jokes, clumsy quips intended to be witty, but they simply grate.
"I like your cardigan, was it your grandmother's?"
"I find vegetarianism fascinating, is that why you're short?"
"You do know smoking doesn't actually make you thinner?"
A dinner party, a newly converted Queen Anne house five minutes from the hospital, eighteenth-century red-brick, Corian kitchen, French painted walls, Italian table, and a redhead, five two, finally turns to Julius.
"So what do you do, Julian?"
Usually he'd correct, chide even, but not her: he wants to squeeze her. "I'm the hospital's statistical expert reporting to the Director of Corporate Services."
"Oh, I love experts. What, league tables, improved targets, that sort of thing?"
"Exactly. I churn out numbers so the powers-that-be can argue about what they mean."
"Do you know what they mean?"
"Sorry, no. I can't afford to think about that, it's not my job. I can't give the figures meaning. I just collate the data. Nothing more."
At the end of the evening, Julius conspired to be next to her as she put on her coat. The connection can be instant, that mix of pheromones, perfume and visual mapping. Something told him that this configuration of circumstances — the presence of a petite, unsuccessful travel writer and a giant NHS statistician at a gathering of newly promoted doctors, his fragile state of intoxication that left him with just the right amount of testosterone in his bloodstream, the minute or so of general confusion as people hugged and bid goodbye, giving Julius a moment to speak without anyone else hearing him — would never occur again. He had to act. It was, from a statistical point of view, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Do you have a phone number? I mean, of course you do, but could you give it to me?"
She smiled at him — and he forgot every equation he ever knew.
"Oh, that's sweet, but the thing is, I've got a boyfriend."
Julius knew this was a lie. Nine out of ten women who come alone to dinner parties wearing black bras and drink more than six glasses of wine are single. But he kept quiet as the door closed slowly behind her.
I open my journal. Thrill of empty white paper, let's kick off the adventure. Each time is the same: I think it's impossible to understand them, to categorize another soul. But I always get there in the end.
Julius Miles is straightforward. Just three words and he's not even passed my bench yet. Who he is, what he is, what he will no longer be when I'm done with him.
Big Lonely Rock.
A seventh wave must crash into him.
He's upon me now, looking to the pavement, avoid the gum, the dog do, the cracks. His eye on his watch, on his monthly record.
Fastest Time Taken to Walk 2.1 Miles to Work in May: 28 minutes.
Average Time Taken to Shower: 6 minutes.
Brush Teeth: 50 seconds.
Apply Roll-on Deodorant: 7 seconds.
Polish Shoes: 2 minutes with 30 seconds airing between polish, application and buff.
Eat Crumpet with Honey Once Butter Has Melted: 45 seconds.
In government circles it's called "analysing performance indicators". If the whole world is a machine, how can we speed it up?
Here are a few of Julius Miles's other statistics:
Total Lifetime Relationships Longer than a Week — 7.
Total Sexual Relationships — 4.
Time since Last Sexual Relationship — 2.5 years.
I leave the walking to the man called Miles. I'm Felicity, so I catch the happy bus. The 66D takes me west along the "Roman Road", so called because the Romans built it, legions of skirted men imposing cubits and digits on an Icenian world of devil-worship and roasted foxes.
Julius likes the Romans, and not just because his father and grandfather were named after Emperors. He likes their arpents and yokes and sesters and scruples. He sees history as the struggle between calculating men of mathematics and reckless dream-sayers. Worships the scientist.
Even Julius would have to admit that in Bethnal Green arithmetic and geometry lost. The Romans' beautifully straight road still intersects with the River Lea on its way to their garrison of Camulodunum, now site of the UK's "finest roller-skating rink", Colchester Rollerworld. But today it is flanked by examples of human beings waging war on sense and structure, a continuous mess of half-baked businesses and tax dodges, most surviving less than six months. "To Let" is the brand of the area. Smorgasbords of shopfronts and signs, buddleia and ragwort poking from rooftops amongst naked television aerials and half-attached satellite dishes — nothing consistent, nothing planned.
The bus coughs past the market stalls in the concrete square and on past the Golden Shoe Thai Restaurant, Hakan's Supermarket, Tolga Supermarket, Tolga II Supermarket, Hassan Ali Hairdressers, Gentle Life Yoga Centre, Crockett's Washing Machine Shop and Electrical Warehouse, and the London Buddhist Centre, housed as if the punchline to a music-hall joke in the red-bricked Victorian splendour of the former Bow Police Station.
The bus disgorges most of its passengers at the traffic lights, and I hold my nose to avoid the stale belch of Bethnal Green Underground station, the breath from the depths, the gasp of the beast. I inhale again only as we pass Liby Gardens, where Large Girl in Headscarf Practises Free Throws on the lumpy basketball court. Beneath the bridge three fat Bangladeshi men sitting together on an orange sofa stare at my passing reflection, daring me to tell them nobody loves them.
I get off on Whitechapel Road, where the street market is just beginning. Julius loves this place, but do not think it's because of the chaotic splendour of the bright stalls brimming with gnarled foreign fruits and bulbous foreign vegetables, the pavement thronged with tiny Bangladeshi burqa mums and lofty Somali dames in chadors dragging reluctant offspring to purchase okra and peas and strange, bloody fish heads from the Indian subcontinent serenaded by battery beat boxes blaring Bangla and pirated expat Somali rap. No. Julius likes Whitechapel Market because it's a pie chart of the world. Only one in six people on this stretch of road is white. Five sixths are brown or black. Welcome to your planet, Julius Miles will tell you. To your future.
But there's no time to linger like a tourist in my own city. I have work to do. I cross the road to the hospital, waiting until three stubble-chinned drunks scuttle clear of the revolving door, spinning round like ancient liars to eye me with disdain.
Perhaps they think the manly girl in her new jeans and new Asics is a cop. More likely they sense somewhere deep in their shaking minds that I am not like them, not like any of these citizens of the world, except for maybe the other freaks and fallen angels hiding away in the forgotten rooms above the money-transfer offices and the sari shops, who glance out once a day at the building where they grew wings, in reverence and despair.
I'm post-op, you see. Born male, but have become female, although even after three years of HRT I still have to shave. Electrolysis is not my friend.
Don't be surprised that I'm transsexual. Us minor gods are carefully selected. The Storks often resemble fat babies, the Money Spiders tend to have golden tans even in winter, and the Grim Reapers possess deathly teeth, full of cavities. There's no need to overcomplicate things, I'm sure you'll agree. Life these days is difficult enough. Us Cupids are nearly always transsexual. The job description requires intimate knowledge of both sexes. Hermaphrodites are also chosen, but have a reputation for being a little highly strung.
This East End hospital didn't make me. I went west, with my father's money, to where oil paintings guard you every metre of the corridors, and Kenny G's Haydn serenades you on the way to the operating theatre.
The Royal London would like to be as modern as the West End hospital where Felicity found herself. But despite its New Labour extensions and future-proof blue-glass towers, it's still the place where the Elephant Man was carved into little trunky bits, where the Ripper sent Catherine Eddowes's kidney along with a letter addressed "From Hell". There are still corridors where electrical entrails hang from gaping vents and damp walls peel like a leper's back — a place where you start to feel that horror is not just something in the films.
Room 717B lurks halfway down one such corridor. On the door is a sign that reads "Department of Diagnostic Statistical Research", black Arial lettering on white. Julius likes the sign, but despises his office. Room 717B is small, cramped and airless. Too hot in summer, too hot in winter. Just a single medium-sized window that opens onto a puke-yellow wall; you can touch the brick without leaning out.
Inside the window, the office furnishings are shabby, fraying and forlorn. Every surface wants to be somewhere else — the white polystyrene ceiling panels loose and flapping in the air-conditioning breeze like sullen surrender flags, unfurling ferns of plastic veneer on the desktops curling away at the edges. The floor buckles in places as if mini-earthquakes occur each night. Lino bubbles towards the door, attempting to escape. And the walls are blistering, paint puckering damply beneath the small fog cloud puffed anxiously ceilingwards by Julius's nine-gallon recirculating humidifier.
The dampening and the blistering and the peeling scares Julius a little. As if Nature, with its viruses, bacteria and amoebas, is lurking just beneath the surface of every man-made object, microscopically multiplying and exhuming until it takes hold and rots everything within the smell of its spores.
Julius keeps his computer sealed in plastic. His printer and scanner and backup drives beneath Tupperware tubs purchased from the country's largest DIY online retailers.
The only personal items Julius permits in Room 717B are a bumper sticker on the noticeboard that he purchased in Arizona which reads "Drink coffee and do stupid things faster with more energy" and a plant that his mother gave him when his last girlfriend left him three years ago. Hoping to drown it, to over-water it to death, he soaks it every day using a catheter linked to the tap that one of the Urology guys rigged up for him. Yet the yucca is thriving. Some plants are like that. Some people too in my experience. Try to hurt them and they feel alive. Nurses and doctors and orderlies hurry past the door to 717B and its sign because they can't quite believe that anyone could be working eight hours a day five days a week dissecting statistics. As if those who carry out such abstract work in a hospital might in fact be part-machine themselves.
You and I would rather stack shelves, but Julius Miles does not find his job boring. As far as I can tell, he loves his work. He collates data from the different hospital departments weekly, and in some cases daily. He processes the figures, comparing them to historical data from each department, and to data from other London, UK and European hospitals, not to mention the government's ever-changing national target figures.
Numbers. Order. Sense. An island of reason in an ocean of mess.
Julius has much to clean up. Billions of numbers sting through his Dell PowerEdge servers. The NHS is the biggest single employer in Europe, fifth biggest in the world after the US Defence Department, the Chinese Military, Walmart and McDonalds. 1.2 million people on its payroll even after government cutbacks. If it were a country, the UK's National Health Service would be the thirty-third biggest economy in the world. And the grumpiest.
Julius lays out multilevel Poisson regression models explaining lengths of stay over time and across surgical firms and trusts within the Strategic Health Authority whilst adjusting for patient variables such as co-morbidities. He includes control charts for each trust illustrating the variation over time, even though his boss, Richard Lovall, Director of Corporate Services, usually moves Julius's detailed and statistically rigorous work to an appendix, asking instead for over simplified multicoloured pie charts. Richard Lovall likes pie charts, simple mystical wheels that he can wave at people, the chief executives, the politicians and disgruntled patients' representatives with their ill-fitting twinsets and weight-watcher eyes. Richard calls Julius "invaluable" and "a sterling asset to the Trust's management team", although Julius suspects that he's just being nice because Lovall is clumsy like Julius, and is usually nice to everyone, as his name suggests.
He was less nice when he explained that the Department of Diagnostic Statistical Research was being considered for closure under the Trust "Restructuring Plan".
"Wouldn't be redundancy, Julius. No, nothing like it."
"But you'd be firing me ..."
"And you'd be picked up by any number of companies, whom the Trust would then approach to hire you out to do exactly the same job you're doing now, for more money but without the pension noose around our neck. Think of it as a transfer. Moving house. Changing lanes."
Julius doesn't want to leave the hospital. Despite its yellowing worktops and peeling walls, he doesn't want to leave Room 717B. He knows it's a hiding place, but nobody blamed Anne Frank for wanting to stay put. He is afraid that the Trust will kill his job in the next round of firings.
Seriously Depressed Man Considers Making Up Figures to Render Himself Invaluable.
I heard him first two weeks ago. No sound that you could detect, no sob, no shiver: the long-term lonely are hardened against expressing their pain, they know the hard way that after a tipping point tears make sadness worse, not better.
We're sniffer dogs. Coal-mine canaries. Cupids feel the pulse of a heart that yearns, vibrations on wind and water. Sometimes it's just a taste on the tip of the tongue, burnt metal.
Excerpted from The Happy Numbers of Julius Miles by Jim Keeble. Copyright © 2012 Jim Keeble. Excerpted by permission of Alma Books Ltd.
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