The Rocking Horse Diary – Alan Combes


“A heart warming story with an uplifting message for any family”

Malcolm Smith

My name is Kirk Ellis. I am nine years old. This is my story.

So begins the Rocking Horse Diary, penned by Kirk who wants to tell the story of his grandad, Sidney Mudge, who is “a very special man and possibly the world’s best grandad”. Although Kirk and his grandad are fictional characters, Alzheimer’s is not, and Alan Combes’ story is based on real events.

There is a strong vein of comedy in the story.  As Alan says, ‘Without humour, coping with dementia would be an impossible task.

It was the author’s intention that love and affection would shine through the moments of tragedy, and indeed it does. His goal, which we believe readers will agree he has achieved, was to help young people towards a better understanding of a horrible illness.

This is aided by the wonderful illustrations by John Sunderland, which help to bring the story to life.

“Feeling connected is such a vital part of our wellbeing and people living with dementia can often feel isolated. For Kirk and his grandad building a “Magic Rocking Horse” together, while sharing stories and jokes along the way helps them to understand each other and allows them to maintain a positive connection as grandad’s dementia progresses. This is such an important message for families who care for someone living with dementia.

Dr Lynne Corner, Director of Newcastle University’s Dementia Innovation Hub


“It’s amusing, it’s moving, it’s pleasantly presented, it’s saying, obliquely, something about the horrors of dementia in all its kinds that needs saying.”



The best story ever about my Grandad Sidney was last winter when it snowed. I looked out of my bedroom window in the morning and the snow was coming down like feathers from a million birds.

I asked Mum if I could go round to Grandad’s to see if he would play in the snow with me.

‘Take care that neither of you fall over,’ she said.

How can you have fun in the snow and not fall over? Falling over is what snow was made for.

‘Let’s build a giant snowman,’ I said to Grandad as soon as I was through his door.

‘No!’ he said with a cross face. ‘Everyone does that. We’ll make a snowwoman instead.’

I looked at him gone-out. ‘Umm, what’s the difference between a snowman and a snow woman, Grandad?’

‘They’re the same,’ he said, ‘but she has two bumpy bits on the front.’

What he did was this. He’d kept Nanna Joan’s clothes even though she died years ago.

He strapped one of her old bras round its chest and filled the boobies with snow. He pressed some giant size knickers into the bottom part. Then he took one of Nanna’s old hats with feathers in and put it on the head. To finish off, he pressed a pair of his old false teeth into the snow below its carrot nose.

‘There,’ he said. ‘I christen this snow-lady Izzy the incredible snow-woman.’

People came from all over with phones and cameras to take pictures of Izzy before she melted. Grandad was dead proud … and so was I.

I’ll make a list of the things that me and Grandad often do

1. We go fishing down the canal together. Once he sang a song about drunken sailors and, hey presto, he got a fish on the end of his line. Magic!

2. Once he made me a kite that looked just like a cloud. We flew it in the caravan park and some people thought it was an actual cloud!

3. We collect plants in the wood and turn them into tiny trees using wire and clippers. ‘I’ll teach you how to do bonsai,’ Grandad said. ‘It comes from Japan.’

4. We once had a water fight in Grandad’s bungalow. When we had finished everywhere was soaked. ‘Don’t tell your mum,’ he said. ‘She’ll think I’ve lost me marbles, Kirky boy.’

5. On Sundays we play Match of the Day on Grandad’s lawn. He’s usually goalie and has a 79 on his back. ‘That’s cos it’s my age,’ he says. ‘Not many chaps my age can dive like this,’ he said, landing in a prickly bush. ‘Ow, flipping, ow.’

“I liked the closeness Kirk and his Grandad had as friends and the fun they shared.  The humour and illustrations made me laugh.  Yet, as Sidney’s condition progressed, it was tinged with sadness.  The story is sympathetic and very relevant today.”

Liz Jones


About the Author

Alan Combes was first published in 1981 with a feature in The Guardian about camping in the Soviet Union before the Iron Curtain was raised.

Over the next 20 years he contributed regularly to both The Guardian and the Times Educational Supplement and various national magazines. In 1999 he became a football match correspondent for the Sunday Times, a position he held until 2010. Recently he has been writing features for the Yorkshire Post.

He has had several educational books published and in 2004 was editor of Meeting Educational Needs, a prize-winning series published by John Fulton.

He began writing children’s fiction for Barrington Stoke in 2007 and has had 12 books published by them, including the best-selling United Here I Come and City Boy. His six-book series The Dead Man Files has continued to sell well and is targeted at older teenagers with dyslexia.

With Norman Fowler he wrote the musical play Black Potatoes which played to full houses at the Upstage Centre, York, and is currently being submitted to agents in the USA and Ireland.

The Rocking Horse Diary came from many years of being the primary carer for his father in law, a man of wonderful practical skills who was devastated by Alzheimer’s. Alan kept a diary covering a 10 year period and this provided the core material for a work of fiction in which the illness is seen for what it is by Sidney’s loving grandson, Kirk. He has already given a number of talks to adults about the book and the illness as well as presenting a digest of the book to child readers.

“The book shows the impact of Alheimer’s at a personal family level… It is not at all depressing, as there are many humorous moments.”