For the complete experience please see the story notes at the end of the page.
Annie felt her route along the walls with her nine-year-old fingers, as they guided her safely to her bed. She slid onto it carefully and snuggled up against Grandpa John, who she instinctively knew was already lying there. She turned her face up to him and he outlined her cheek, neatened her hair and kissed her forehead. He tucked the soft fleecy blanket around her tiny body and they nestled together.
“So?” he said, “what will it be this evening?”
“Tell me the one about the All-Inclusive Club!” she giggled.
Grandpa John gave a groaning smile and Annie chuckled mischievously.
“Again?” he teased, “I thought you’d be getting fed up of it by now!”
“Oh, go on…purrrlleeeeeeeeease,” Annie begged.
Grandpa John cleared his throat, as one would do when about to tell a great story. Annie prepared to visualise his every word, bringing it life and colour in her imagination. Grandpa John started the story in his grandest voice.
“Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a man called John. He was 50 then. He had a swathe of grey hair like a mop, eyes that crinkled at the sides and a friendly face full of curiosity and joy. He was very intelligent, with the most brilliant mind. But, in his family’s eyes, he had his shortcomings. For example, he only wore blue trousers and the same green fleece coat which was a very old and threadbare friend. The flamboyant scarf he modelled was, in their view, just silly and there was no point in novelty socks. But despite there being all these features to see in John, to the outside world, he was a wheelchair.
One day, he slowly rolled himself down his chocolate bar of a street, avoiding some drains and potholes but stumbling over others, towards the bus stop. He almost made it to the bus, but not quite. It slowly drove away just after he had made eye contact with the driver and the bus was gone. And John felt punched in the stomach and sad. He looked through the bus shelter to a nearby tree and he told it, ‘I am John. I am not disabled, I am able.’ And the wind blew through the tree and the autumn leaves spoke as they rumbled past and John caught the agreement in their breath and he felt better.”
Annie heard the crisp leaves crinkling as they passed and she saw John at the bus stop. Grandpa paused until he could see that she was ready and the tale went on.
“The next day, despite some trouble using his bathroom as the handrail had fallen down, John managed to leave for the bus 10 minutes earlier. He was waiting in the queue when it approached. The driver lowered the ramp for John to board and John ascended until he sat eye to eye with the driver. Then he said more loudly than yesterday,
‘I am John. I am not disabled. I am able.’
And the driver replied, ‘whatever you say mate, now where you goin?’
And John paid his fare and turned towards the eyes in the bus that stared at his chair before hurriedly turning to study the steamy windows. Then one person called, ‘I am Jo. I am not disabled. I am able. I am with you.’ And John noticed that she could not see him because her eyes did not work, but she had heard him better than anyone else. And from that day on, they were together. “
Annie sighed. This was the beginning of the club. She knew it. Grandpa John waited until she had smelt the damp floor of the bus and squeakily written her name on the steamy window and then continued.
“The next day, John rolled down his street and he called into the wind, ‘I am not disabled. I am able. Are you with me?’ and the dozing tramp turned over from his slumber on the bench and croaked, ‘I am with you’. Then, the lady with asthma walking her tiny dog puffed, ‘me too!’ and from that day on they were together.”
“So that’s four people, the trees and the wind, the leaves and a dog together, isn’t it?” said Annie, “but what about the bus driver and everyone on the bus?”
And Grandpa John patiently explained that the tale was symbolic and it showed how support for something built up slowly and needed hard work. It showed that not everyone would be with you, but that you would always be able to find people like you if you looked hard enough. Seeing that she was satisfied, Grandpa John carried on.
“The next day, after work, John went to the park. He couldn’t go the way he wanted because a tree had fallen onto the path and so he watched people climb over it and he turned and went a different way. He felt at one with the trees; he felt at one with the wind. Then, it started to rain. John had no coat. He was going to get wet. The cold water soaked into his clothes and they stuck to his arms and thighs. He felt like he was sitting in an icy lake. His sleeves and trouser legs twisted around him like an anaconda, squeezing him. A complete chill shook his frustrated body and he inhaled a desperate breath right down to his toes, then he shouted over the storm, ‘I am John. I am not disabled. I am able. Are you with me?’
And the rain spat back at him and the thunder shrieked so that he could not hear anything else at first. But then, there was someone there. And another. And another. And one man had brought his daughter who could not hear a word that anyone was saying but she could feel the rain and the stroking of somebody’s hand onto hers. She knew cold and she knew warmth. ‘We are with you,’ said the man.
And the rain stopped. And from that day, they were together. “
“So now, the storm is in the club, right?” said Annie and Grandpa John patiently explained that this part of the story meant that people with disabilities had to battle sometimes against a step they couldn’t climb, a person who couldn’t help or a society that didn’t value them, but that determination and teamwork would bring understanding and change in the end.
And Annie asked why such a land existed because it didn’t sound very nice for John. Grandpa told her that things were better now because people had learned from the hard times and he asked her if she had noticed that the club was growing. And Annie smiled because that world in the story was going to get better, but she was always scared that it would come back. And she had stinging tears in her eyes because she knew what was coming next. She took a deep breath to prepare herself. Grandpa did the same.
“The next day, John went to the supermarket. He always shopped on a Friday. He knew Dave would help him to attach his shopping trolley to the front of the wheelchair. Dave knew what time John was coming and had the trolley ready every week so that John wouldn’t have to touch any of the trolleys that Dave had lined up. Dave liked John because John knew that he shouldn’t touch the trolleys. John also knew that he had to take the tin from the front left corner of any shelf that Dave had stacked, otherwise Dave would get very upset. John didn’t even have to ask Dave to join the club. He had always known that Dave was with him.
The next day, John was ill. He stayed at home. The phone didn’t ring. The letter box didn’t chatter. He fell out of his wheelchair when he was trying to use the bathroom and he lay on the floor with his thoughts and his pain and wondered how long he would have to wait. “
Annie sniffed. Grandpa held her closer and stroked her silky blonde hair which he always told her was yellow and smooth like the petals on his sunflowers.
“It’s ok,” he whispered to her softly like a lavender breeze, “it’s going to be ok.” Annie nodded. Grandpa breathed in carefully and continued speaking gently.
“John was startled to hear love unbolting the locks on the doorway. Caring voices were calling to him, ‘We are with you,’ and he heard beautiful music as they came to him and lifted him. “
Grandpa looked at Annie. She was smiling. She was listening to the music. He was too. They enjoyed it for some time whilst embracing the feeling of positivity from that moment and from what was to come. Annie nodded at Grandpa when she was ready for him to carry on.
“The next day in his hospital bed, John waited for his operation. And John was pleased. He was comfortable and he was not alone. He watched people talk to him with their hands through the ward window and he knew that they were with him. So many people passed by, giving their support, needing inclusivity. John realised on this day that the All-Inclusive Club was growing and that every member was different.
Their ages were different.
Their genders were different.
The way that they felt different was different.
Some people had something missing from their body.
Some people had something missing from their mind.
Some people had something that they didn’t want.
Others had lost something.
But they had one very important thing in common.
They all had needs and were all committed to work to accommodate each other and their differences.
And John did not know that whilst he was in hospital quite how many more people were saying, ‘We are with you.’
When he left hospital, John suggested that those that were with him all met in the park.
‘We can make things better,’ he said.
‘If each one of us is a brick, we can come together and build a ramp for accessibility.
If each one of us is a droplet of water, we can make a wave to cleanse old attitudes of discrimination and exclusivity.
If each one of us is a different colour we can make a far-reaching rainbow.
If we are each a seed, we can bear different flowers and fruit to share.
If we are the wind, we are with those who have gone before us and those who are to come after us.
If we all hold hands, we know that we are truly together.
We are inclusivity, we are accessibility, we are unity. We are the All-Inclusive Club.
But there’s just one thing,’ pondered John as he looked down the long chain of people, ‘and that is where we can come together as we are such a big group now. Everyone is invited and so the park just may not be big enough. ‘
And a small child stopped coughing long enough to put his hand up and say, ‘isn’t the world big enough? Why don’t we use that?!’ and he started coughing again, but everyone still heard the collective soft sigh of a widely held dream already sown in the hearts of every person there.
‘We want inclusivity and accessibility to cover the whole world,’ smiled John, ‘I like that.’”
Grandpa John looked down at Annie. She had her eyes closed and was breathing peacefully. He knew that she was dreaming of the future and would be instrumental in making it even better for everyone.
“You’re in the All-Inclusive Club too, Annie,” he whispered, kissing her eyelids tenderly.
“Like every child, you have the power to make the world an even better place – where everyone can reach for the stars and work together to carry each other over any obstacles.”
Although Annie’s eyes were closed, she could see that clearly.
I’d love it if this story was read aloud but also that it could stimulate other senses so that any or all of these following things are available for listeners to experience either during or after the story:-