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A Prelude To Halloween…..’Angels’ by Jessica Cooke

28 Oct

Angel

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Angels

by Jessica Cooke

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She had never bothered me before, not really.

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She used to have a grey look about her, not the grey of a washed out dishcloth, but a shimmering steel grey that trickled slowly like a sewage river, beneath those great almost diamond shaped cracks, the ones where her skin stretched clear over.

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It’s because of her blood. Not red like ours, but polluted, like the snow you find in a gutter.

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You can probably tell I don’t like her. I’ve never liked her. She doesn’t scare me though; to be scared of her would be like being scared of your own face in the mirror, or the sky outside your window. She’s always been there.

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For some reason, I never spoke about her, I don’t know why. I wondered why she was there, but only in the same lazy, childish way I wondered why the sky was blue and why the trees grew up instead of down, and why I had cancer.

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But, like the trees and the sky and my cancer, somebody, somewhere eventually came up with an answer, so I figured that, eventually, someone would explain her to me.

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His name was Michael. He was in my leukaemia ward, and he was eleven. My mum said I looked up to him because he was older than me but I liked him because of his funny accent. I found him different to all the other children on the ward, I giggled when he spoke.

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“Sure, I have one,” he told me, in a very matter of fact manner, “but mine don’t look like you say yours does.”

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“Is yours a man?” I asked, with the typical boys-play-with-boys and girls-with-girls social science of a ten year old.

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“Nah,” he answered, “Mine’s a woman like yours is. But she don’t look the same, mine’s got bright white hair like smoke! Or snow! Or Nurse Chandler’s hair!”

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We both giggled.

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“And sometimes she gazes at me with big groggy eyes, like a bull frog, and sometimes she does this with her mouth.” He opened and closed his mouth slothfully like a fresh water fish, “but no other people can see them – you only have them if you’re sick, like me and you,” he pinched my hip, and I wriggled back. “Don’t worry, Bluebelle,” he
grinned a toothy smile, “they’re here to protect us. Like angels.”

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I looked at my lady. I’ve never seen her face. All I saw was her stark grey body, with her bright, thick veins, like lead stitching, awkwardly bulging among the thick tufts of dark hair, which sprouted oddly in places across her head and back, like poisoned crops.

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She didn’t look like any angel I’d ever seen.

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“Eh,” said Mike, suddenly, “If you want you can have Patrick to sleep with?” He handed me a life-beaten bear with a missing eye and buttons hanging down. He said his mum said the bear was falling apart, but Mike thought he was special. I held him tightly all night.

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It was my Mum who told me Mike was Irish.

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It’s remarkable the way your mind works, when you’re that small, I was sure I loved that strange boy with the jingle bell voice, but now I realise I know nothing about love, and probably never will, but that’s okay, I know what love is, and you can’t miss something that’s never been there, just like you can’t be afraid of something that always has been.

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“Mum, would I become Irish,” I asked, one night cuddled to my mother’s warm body, winding her golden hair around my finger, like a ring, “you know, when me and Mike get married?”

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“If you want,” she’d said, but her voice sounded funny to me, as though it was cracking at the edges. I told her I’d put it back together, but she simply kissed my head and told me to go get ready for bed.

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When I came back there were red blotches on her neck and face and her eyes had tiny ruby lines around the pupil, like a crimson- white kaleidoscope.

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I asked if the Lady had done it to her.

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“What do you mean?” She looked bemused, and wiped away the tears that I now know she’d shed for me.

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“Well,” I began, “My lady never does anything to me; she just looks straight out of the window. I’ve not seen her face but, I don’t like her. Do you like your lady, Mum?”

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My Mother had said she didn’t have a lady, and after that I had to go talk to a man in a suit, he was a nice and he was a doctor, my mother had assured me, and I was to tell him all about my lady.

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“He doesn’t look like a doctor,” I’d protested, doctors wore white coats; I knew that, I’d read it in my books.

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“He’s a special kind of doctor,” she told me, smiling, but her eyes bore that strange falling look I’d glimpsed in the bedroom, “he’s going to help you get rid of that nasty lady.”

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And I was rid of her, at least for a while.

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It was the summer after I’d gone into remission, just before my 14th birthday. I noticed she seemed to be fading; the cracks across her skin began to spread, like an earth-quake moving in slow motion, until she stood, thin and wavering at the edges, as though I was just looking at her reflection in water.

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I started over to her, picking my way among the toys that lay littered across my bedroom floor, a dozen tiny faces at my feet;

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Step. Step. Step.

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She seemed to waver, the outline of her body shaking fuzzily like the hectic dancing of white static on an empty TV channel.

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Step. Step. Step.

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As I drew closer to her, I noticed the drops. Tiny perfectly formed droplets of water, that fell with a sucking sound from behind her long veil of dark hair, and clung to the windowsill in tiny frozen pearls.

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I now know that this is what happens when they cry.

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My angel, if that is what she was, was dying. I suddenly felt a surge of hot guilt course through me; I imagined the sight from the window pane, where she stared; her frail frame disappearing in tiny glimmers, like the blinking of a transmitted light; a fading message sent from somewhere faraway.

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Slowly, I reached out to touch her, my own pale fingers shaking, as if to mirror her.

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Slowly, slowly, I extended my arm, my forefinger stretching toward her like a tree branch, gently moving closer, closer…

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“Belle.”

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I jumped and span around, my arm still stretched out in front of me as though I was pointing.

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My mother stood in the doorway.

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“What are you doing?” she asked, puzzled.

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“Nothing,” I said quickly. I glanced back at my Lady.

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She was fading still. The shape of her bones were illuminated in the morning sun; ghost bones; the kind you could see right through.

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I looked back at my mother.

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When I think back now I remember her stillness, how the white doorway framed the moment like a picture, my mother; eyes shining with tears, clutching her mobile phone in her hand.

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A split second, half a heartbeat; ignorance, peace.

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A moment later, she told me Michael had died.

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It’s strange that the things you expect can still come as a shock, my mum had warned me that it would happen soon. Every day as I sat beside his bed, his face seemed to grow paler and his bright smile had become a heavy grin that stretched out across his tiny bones. His happiness was always greater than he was.

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I remember the last day I’d spent with Michael; I’d held his hand and Patrick’s as I sat, nestled in his covers, his warm slow breath caressing the skin on my cheek, listening as he talked once more about his lady.

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“Everyone says I’m getting sicker,” he told me, I leant forward to hear him; his words were thin and whispery, like falling paper. “But I don’t know. I feel it, my belly hurts and I can’t move as much, I need their help with pretty much everything. But the angel, Belle, I wish you could see her, she looks so beautiful. Do you remember the white statue?”

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The year before, Michael and I had been to Lourdes with our parents, and whilst Mike’s Mum and Dad had gone off to explore, Mike had insisted on staying with me, so him, my mum and me had sat eating our sandwiches on a pure white concrete block; at the centre of which was a small sized statue of a bright white lady. She had the most beautiful face, carved of vanilla stone.

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Mum had told us the statue was of a lady who said that an angel had appeared to her and drove a spear right through her. Mum said the spear didn’t kill her but the lady was happy and filled with the power of God. I asked Mum why someone would be so happy to have a spear driven right through them, and why God was so special?

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Mum stared at me, her eyes widening in shock.

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“To be visited by God would be a privilege Belle! Why the Lord is the utmost …” her voice was becoming shrill, like the noise a microphone makes when you try to tune it in. I imagined my Mum on a podium preaching God to people passing by, getting shriller and shriller as they marched on with their blasphemy,not knowing her daughter was among the uncaring.

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“Years ago,” she started, “People would even sacrifice themselves, or even others to God to prove their love for him. It was the angels that did his bidding, of-course. It was an angel who visited Abraham and asked him to offer up his only son to the lord.”

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“As a sacrifice?” I asked.

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Mike looked down and began to fidget awkwardly with the hem of his t-shirt; a ghost of smile playing on his lips; he knew what my Mum was like.

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“Yes,” she continued proudly, “with a blessed knife.”

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God sounded like a great spoiled child to me, and I definitely did not like the sound of his angels.

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I normally try to keep my Mum happy, nod along when she talks about “The Lord”, go along with her to church, in that moment, curiosity niggled at me like a hot itch, and I just had to know.

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“Would you sacrifice me to God if he asked you to?”

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Mike looked up from his fidgeting and began to eye us both warily, as though he was watching someone tread through a mine-field.

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“What do you mean?”

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“If God came down from heaven and asked you to offer up me, would you do it?”

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Her eyes bore into mine, she opened her mouth but closed it soon after, as if she had been about to speak but thought better of it.

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“I love you,” she said instead.

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“So you wouldn’t?” I persisted.

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“Oh!” Mike said suddenly. With his eyes still fixated on Mum and me, he had reached behind him to grab his Ribena carton, missed, and knocked it flat over.

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We jumped up quickly as a sticky red river began to form where we’d been sitting.

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Mum gasped, with shock or relief I’m not sure. But she whipped out a tissue from her bag and began to clean frantically the feet of the statue, her eyes fixated on the vivid pool of red, she would not have it taint the ivory gown.

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The cool blue light of the hospital room placed a gentle glow upon Mike’s face. I told him I did remember the statue.

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“She looks just like her, just like her,” he told me, suddenly he gripped my hand and for a moment I was frightened; his fingers clung white-tight to the flesh of my wrist, “she’s beautiful,” he said again. He was staring at me now, his eyes dark jewels in the cobalt shadows.

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Under the eyes of his angel, the dying boy gave me my first ever kiss.

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Soon after this, I saw Mike’s lady for myself. It was at the funeral, we were all gathered around the grey headstone, under which my best friend lay. I looked at the tiny cracks that had seemed to form already across the fresh stone, I wondered if I could plant flowers between the cracks, and maybe they’d bloom so Mike would still be beautiful. 

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That’s when I saw her. At first I thought she was part of the crowd, someone dressed unusually in bright white linen, but then I noticed she began to walk alone, to glide across graves far from our crowd.

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Her long white gown trailed softly as she moved as a boat sails across water. Occasionally she stopped and leant down slightly at a grave here or there, craning her head as if she recognized it as something she once knew.

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Then soundlessly she would stoop to pick just one single flower from the grave that stopped her, before continuing to slide along.

I felt happy for a second when I saw her looking down upon his new bed, glad that he wouldn’t be alone, cramped in that tiny coffin, packed into the silence – he’d have his pretty lady with him; his angel to watch over him.

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Then I saw her face. The way she was looking at his headstone and my blood ran cold. It was that smile.

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It was like an open wound, as though the force of her glee had ripped a grinning hole in her face. I knew that smile, I’d seen it before, it was the one that the villain wore in a film after he escaped justice yet again, it was like the one Tom Chester had when he pushed me down in the playground and looked at my bald head, and called me freak, back when I used to go to school; it was victory.

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I still think of Mike all the time, especially now since I’m sick again. I don’t believe in life after death but I like to pretend I do sometimes to keep my mum happy. That’s why I go with her to church, that’s why I talk to her about God, as if he’s real.

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But there’s no such thing as a man with a long white beard, who watches over us from the land of fluffy clouds. That would be too nice, too convenient for us all.

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There is simply life and death.

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And the angels that watch over us. Waiting.

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Writer’s Biography:

My full name is Jessica Cooke. Am 22, from Liverpool. I do Creative writing at Sheffield Hallam and currently live in Sheffield for Uni. I work in Local authority bar and apart from writing, socialising, and the odd hike and rock climb I’m a little bit boring! Haha. I do the occasional bit of performance poetry, enjoy music and reading.

http://madramblingsss.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/JessicaCooke5

Two Strands: ArtiPeeps Mini-Relaunch

30 Sep

Two Strands

Well, as from tomorrow until the end of the year ArtiPeeps is back with gusto. We are now entirely driven by multi-form collaborations and Individual Showcasing (the two strands) It’s a real treat to say that over the next 3 months…

  • We’ve got 12 weekend showcases * lined up featuring a real gamut of emerging and established creatives and forms every Friday (see below).

        *Weekend Showcase Initiative (Every Friday, 1 Creative, 1 Piece of Work, letting their work speak for itself)

  • We’ve got 1  FreeSpace* creatives ( Michael Schmidt, Nat Hall & Lili Morgan, Shannon Pardoe, Eliot Winters, Holly Gibson and one of our lovely Transformers Karin Heyer) and 1 FreeSpace Group (Space2Create)

          *FreeSpace Initiative (3 consecutive slots for further showcasing or projects).

  • There are also two mid-sized collaborations under our new strand ‘Supporting Mental Health’ ( part of ‘Creatives Making A Difference’):  The first collaboration bringing together 4 artists and 4 poets  examining the dynamics of fear and trust and the other collaboration (involving 3 poets, 2 artists and 1 photographer) on light, comfort and re-assurance. In each case poets, artists and photographers will be  working alongside each other on the themes.

The two collaborations above highlight one of the major threads of ArtiPeeps’ intention which we’re letting sit under the banner of ‘Supporting Mental Health’. The artwork and texts created in these two collaborations, alongside   ‘The Recovery Project’ will form an ongoing artistic and therapeutic resource for people in need and also provide an innovative access point from which people can engage with difficult psychological themes and issues. This I’m hoping to call  ‘ Comfort Zone’.  (This, I hasten to add at this point,  is very much a work in progress). And I also have in mind that these collaborations could be grouped together as external exhibitions , to increase public awareness.

I’d be very grateful for any feedback on these two collaborations. What you liked about them? If they helped? How valuable you think this strand is?

And….importantly

we are introducing our  Writer in Residence for October (Visitor Peep)  emerging writer and poet Lydia Allison. We’re thrilled to have her with us over the next month. Indeed, we have built a whole multi-form Halloween-style collaboration around 4 great poems of Lydia’s which focus on  a particular interest of her’s- notions of deformity. You’ll hear more about that tomorrow!

And here’s where our third collaboration comes in….because October leads up to Halloween 4 great artists are not only providing illustrations for each of Lydia’s  poems but also collaboratively creating a monster together. At Halloween you’ll be able to see the ghastly, terrifying  collaborative Monster they’ve shaped together and a new piece of writing by Lydia too.  We’ve also got a spanking new piece of Flash fiction with a Halloween theme coming out from emerging writer Jessica Cooke which we’re also very excited about which will pave the way to the Monster. 

We’ve also got ArtiPeeps’ 2nd Artist in Residence returning (Lydia’s predecessor) lovely neon artist Lili Morgan and her neons . Her monthly journal is back until the end of the year.  It will be a delight to have her neons and spirit back on show. And there will be the steady heartbeat of Transformations poems passing through too on a weekly basis.  All is well.

So over the next 3 months well over 30 wonderful creatives will have been individually showcased and have connected and collaborated together – making a difference and  creating new artworks and literary pieces whilst showcasing their talent and artistry. That’s the idea anyway.

I did a bit of calculating last week and I’m proud to say that since last May over 100 creatives have taken up ArtiPeeps’ opportunities. I know that’s probably small fare compared to some organisations, but it is a lovely firm foundation from which to grow.  It is my every intention to continue and develop these opportunitives further and provide concrete oulets like ‘Transformations’ our 2014 large scale art/poetry exhibition on a regular basis. Now we have found a home in the form of Hanse House for our events this can happen.

You’re feedback and support is much valued,  particularly in relation to this new strand. – So do come back both physically and with your comments and ideas. There’s lots on,  and much quality and talent.

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The other Creatives and there work featured over the next 3 months will be  as follows:

Monster: 

Gary Caldwell (Illustrator & Artist)

Diana Proubst (Artist)

Amanda Santos (Artist)

Sara Mena (Artist)

Fear/ Trust

Ryan Atkins (Artist) Richard Biddle (Poet)

Rob Fitzmaurcice (Artist) Robin Sounder (Poet)

Mat JimDog (Artist) Tom Murphy (Poet)

Ray Bentley (Artist) Melissa Diem (Poet)

Comfort and Reassurance

Hugo Smith (Artist) Lenka Monk (Poet)

Ken Fasimpaur (Artist) Lauren Caulson (Poet)

Atalina Marie Homan (Artist) Candice Buchanon (Poet)

Weekend Showcase:

Heather Mary Burns (Artist)

Eliot Winters (Writer and poet)

Em (poet)

Estrella Azul (Writer)

John Austin Brooks (poet)

Jenny Bailey (Writer)

Tony Adams (Photographer)

Mina Polen (Poet)

Virginia Clarke (Artist)

James Gidding (Writer)

Anil Godigamuwe (Poet)

Jeremy Mosley (Photographer)

And maybe more….

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We hope you enjoy the diversity, talent, quality and creativity.

All the very best.

Nicky

P.S. Today, I’m going to be hopefully inaugurating an ArtiPeeps online calendar on the ‘What’s On’  Page so you can see ‘what’s occurring’ throughout the month more easily.

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