MICK AND FRANKIE
by Michelle Ransom-Hughes, featuring Mick Trembath
(Alongside Radio, 2019)
We finished the gig, and I went back to the little hotel room that we were staying in.
And I woke up at 3am in the morning, and I thought it was a smoke alarm.
(High, ringing tone commences)
What he was hearing was a tone the same piercing pitch and loudness as a smoke alarm,
And I wandered around the hotel completely oblivious, and I thought,
“What’s gone off here? Is it an alarm? Is a smoke alarm, what is it?”
And it was not getting louder or softer in any capacity.
And I blocked my ears, and I went, “Oh my god, it’s coming from inside my head”.
It was really, really scary. It was really, really horrible.
Did you know what it was?
No, I didn’t
(Ringing tone ceases)
Mic, a full-time musician, had been struck by tinnitus.
I’d damaged the nerves in my ears, and so I had screaming tinnitus, and ear sensitivity,
which was just a nightmare.
Mick was woefully misdiagnosed by his GP and it took several weeks
before he found a specialist who understood the condition.
He was tested, and told…
And he said, “Oh look, you will get better, the nerves will repair themselves”.
I said, “What’s the estimation on that?”
“Two years absolute minimum, maybe up to five, who knows?” he said
Two years minimum, maybe as many as five.
And no guitar, not even acoustic guitar, for at least a year.
In the immediate term this meant cancelling all the gigs he had lined up with his blues duo,
Mic Dog’s Boneyard.
We’d been booked up for twelve months with gigs. We’d been invited to St Petersburg and Atlanta and London.
So we’d been invited to some fairly interesting places to record and play...and it was great we were having a ball.
And then, (snaps fingers), it’s just turned off, overnight.
That was all gone, absolutely overnight.
Mick’s gigging future went dark. He retreated
And I was living in this tiny little micro house out in the middle of the silent bush.
So I’d go home to this quiet house and would just have this screaming in my ears,
and it was starting to... It was really starting to affect my mental health.
So I’d lost something I’d been working at for years and years and years.
Anyway, what had happened was the nerve was now…
There was a little mechanism in the ear that had been damaged. There was no filter between outside sound and my brain.
And you’d feel it, it was weird. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, it was horrible feeling.
So the sensitivity of my ears was that I had to use plastic cutlery and plastic forks,
because I couldn’t stand the chink of metal on things and...
(Sounds of city foot traffic, then cafe crowd)
You can't go anywhere where there’s noise.
So you can't go to the cinema, you can’t walk down the street.
(Ringing tone over words, words become muffled)
If you go to social occasions you have to wear ear plugs, so you can’t hear what anyone’s saying.
So apart from having this screaming noise in your head, you’re also protectively deaf.
Chronic tinnitus is a dreadful thing. It drives people mad.
It really does, literally, drives people mad. It’s awful stuff.
Sadly, this is no exaggeration.
When Mic put the word out about why he’d suddenly stopped playing and teaching,
he found out there were loads of others, right there in his music community
who also had some form of tinnitus, or ‘the screaming’
So in those three years, I had two people that said, “Yeah, I’ve got it”.
And they both took themselves out. They couldn't handle it anymore.
Of those many fellow sufferers Mick uncovered,
two of them, believing they’d have to live with their conditions,
having been told by GPs they had no hope of improvement...
Those two guys, ultimately took their own lives.
Because it doesn’t stop, it’s 24 hours a day:
last thing you hear before you go to bed, first thing you hear when you wake up in the morning.
And it’s all day, every day.
When the specialist told Mick he was a candidate for recovery
he said there was something Mick could do to get rid of the phantom noise: he could ignore it.
To me, this is the most frustrating advice a doctor could give.
But it made sense to Mick.
You have to imagine it's like someone flicking you in the eye all day, and the only way they’ll stop, is to completely ignore it.
And so I just went, “Well I need a little distraction.
The only way this gonna heal, is if I stop thinking about it, stop paying attention to it”.
I decided to get a little dog.
This is Oh My Dog, I’m Michelle Ransom-Hughes, and this is the story of Mick and Frankie.
SONG: Come to Me (Oh My Dog theme by Seja)
Mick’s partner back then had a dog she’d rescued from what sounded very much like a ‘puppy farm’.
What we assume is a puppy farm.
Well, legally I don't know if that’s the case, but I know when she got Sophie (who was her cocker spaniel),
she’d obviously had a number of litters, and she’s a very traumatised animal.
It took her a year to not to just hide under the table and shake when a stranger walked in the room.
Mick’s partner also had an unusual hobby:
combing through websites, newspapers and notice boards, for animals.
Her sole delight in this world is to find people pets that match them.
She’s a pet matchmaker…
She’s a pet matchmaker
And she’s done it for so many of my friends.
So I said to her, “I’m thinking of getting a dog, can you employ your extraordinary skills?”
Then, there was an ad in the local paper:
a cocker spaniel was for sale from the same place where little trembling Sophie had been rescued.
Mick was told,
Even if it’s not the dog for you, we have to go out and get her.
Because this is a terrible place. We have to go out and rescue her.
So we drove out to Waubra, which is in Victoria.
We got out there, and just...
house out in the country, poorly fenced, piles and piles of dog excrement everywhere;
the smell of panic and fear all over the place;
dogs slinking around the place.
And this woman came out with Frankie, in her arms.
And Frankie was doing that stress panting, you know where they take really short breaths?
(Sound of a distressed dog being silenced)
And this woman every now and then would grab her by the tongue.
And I said, “So this is the little dog?”
And she said, “Yeah, it is”.
I said, “I’ll just take her”.
And I think she wanted 400 dollars for Frankie and I just gave her the money.
But before she would hand it over, she then burst into tears,
and she gave me the whole story about how her husband had all these dogs that he was breeding with.
And there was domestic violence, where she and her son had been physically abused…
And then this fellow would take the best of the dogs and vanish...
And then Frankie had been one of those dogs that he'd taken and vanished with, and she didn't know where Frankie was.
And then one day came home, and two dogs had been just chucked over the fence, that was Frankie,
and then he’d driven off with other dogs…
A truly grim scene.
But Mick thinks the woman had good intentions for the dogs, which was why she was trying to get them off the property.
This was from maybe a 25 minute encounter… so this is my assumption.
The woman - was actually really attached to her dogs, she really loved her dogs, she looked after them,
but she was in this situation where dogs who were no longer useful, or were getting old, would just vanish.
New dogs would arrive…
Whatever the truth of the situation, little Frankie, didn’t put up much of a fight about being handed over to Mick.
Cocker spaniels are naturally a very gentle animal, but she did the closest thing to a bite she could muster,
which was to just put her teeth on my hand and then quickly withdraw that.
Because, she was just terrified.
She hadn’t had a litter, so we don't know how old she was. But we imagine between a year and two years.
And so they drove away from the property, Mick cradling Frankie in his arms.
She’s a little tricolour, so she had eyebrows, which is extraordinary.
And she was just in that panting, terrified state.
You know she was skinny and… her fur was, bloody, I don’t think she’d ever had a wash,
She was crawling with fleas, I mean crawling. You could watch them, through her fur.
(Sounds of a gate opening, birds in the Victorian bush)
I’d never had a dog before, I didn’t know what to do, and suddenly I had a dog that was really deeply damaged.
So she came home and I took her in the little micro house, and I made her something to eat,
and she didn’t touch it, she didn't eat for best part of two weeks.
I was ending up feeding her bloody lamb chops, just so she’d eat things, ya know?
I was a softie.
I sat her down in the little house, and I got down to her level and I said to her,
“Look, I don't know you, and you don't know me, so I totally get it. But you're safe.
I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm not gonna yell at you”.
I said, “You’re safe. Whatever’s happened, it's all in the past. You’re here now. I’ll look after you.
I’ll always make sure you’re warm and fed and I'll make sure there's no dramas”.
I said. “But I just want you to know that you are safe”.
Were you patting her when you were talking to her?
No no no no no.
We were both just sitting on the ground, and she was literally sitting there listening.
And the minute I finished that, that was it.
Like that, that night she came up on the couch, and snuggled in and fell asleep on me.
And there it was.
To build Frankie’s trust in him, Mic made sure they went everywhere together for the first month.
It was tricky because
If you left her in the car, she’d panic.
If you took her to meet anybody else, she’d panic.
If you took her to a little social occasion, she would hide.
She’d hide behind me and shake; or she would just find something to hide under.
And people would offer to make friends with her, you know, little treats and pats,
and she would just be completely suspicious.
She was tricky around other dogs too
Because she was so protective of me she’d just give other dogs the complete shits,
And would growl and other dogs would go, “I’m just being friendly, we’re all being friendly here”.
So she’d miss a lot of social cues because she hadn’t been socialised.
But Mic reckons he and Frankie were made for each other
We kind of looked similar, we had the same eyes, and we liked the same dinners.
And we kind of liked the same…
Well, we like people, but you know, it’ll be good to see you again. Do you know what I mean?
So, I’ve had a lovely day. Ah... let’s not get sick of each other!
Frankie and I both like solitude, and, she was a great dog for me. I found her terrific.
And she’s a hilarious dog, you know.
She's running around and everything is hilarious: tennis balls are hilarious, walks are hilarious.
She’d never really left the farm she was on so there were so many things she's encountered for the first time,
and you could see her brain processing it.
I mean the first time she encountered water she just saw the surface and walked out on it,
And then realised she was was wet and flipped out...
With all that was going on for Mick, hilarious was definitely welcome.
And it’s that wonderful thing too, where you go to bed, and there’s a snoring dog next to you,
and you give it a little pat and that’s lovely,
and because you’re thinking about something else, you’re not thinking about the noise in your head.
And so, just a little mate, a little companion, you know?
And when it would get on top of you and you'd just spend a day, just sort of crying, just to let it all out at the frustration at it all,
there’s somebody there that says,
“Look, I understand you’re upset… Well, I don’t understand you’re upset, but I understand you’re loud and wet at the moment.
Can I have my dinner?”
And it really does bring you out of any sense of self-pity or any sense of wallowing.
You’ve got a little creature that’s really good at just, grounding you.
And that was great.
She wasn’t one of those dogs who would come and comfort you, she just wanted dinner?
And I really empathise with that, there’s only so much you can say.
And she would come and give a little cuddle.
She would often do that funny little cocked head thing,
“I can tell you're upset but, but what do you want me to do? I’m your dog you know. I can’t really talk you through it.
And that’s okay man, that’s fine, you know. Let’s go for a walk.”
And that was really nice too
Because like I say, when you get the self pities, one of the best ways to get out of it, is to go for a walk.
(Gate opens and closes, we hear birds, and man and dog walking through the bush in different weathers)
So they did.
They walked and they walked, in the bush near their place.
And as time passed, Mick could use the sounds of the Enfield Forest as a gauge,
to measure how loud the noise in his head, the tinnitus, was.
Because it's so dominant, once it begins to recede
the little things you begin to hear are just wonderful... there's motorbikes and people chopping wood
and there's birds. But you hear things like the dripping of the forest after rain.
Ponds have formed, and cocker spaniels love to splash through muddy ponds.
You come across other walkers; you hear the crunching of the ground under your boots.
It’s a whole lot of sounds, you hear the leaves moving in the wind.
Sound’s really responsive to climate in the country, so on the hot days it's really quite still, nothing sort of moves,
if you're lucky you'll hear something dry up and break off and fall down,
that crunching of things, like I say, the little dog running around sniffing things.
Occasionally you hear the thud of a kangaroo that’s noticed you and it just jumps off into the distance from there.
In winter it’s the splashing of puddles, and your own internal dialogue as you've been caught out in the rain, how wet am I gonna get?
And the fact that you can hear, the fact that one of your senses is actually starting to operate normally again,
or some sense of normalcy… It's just the most wonderful thing.
All this Ross Creek serenity was just too good to last.
I began working another job, which meant I had to spend long periods of time away.
So it meant Frankie was by herself, in a little house out in the country all day, and that hadn't been the case,
and she was starting to develop a bit of separation anxiety there.
Then, another change:
Mick’s relationship had ended
And after a time, he met, and fell madly in love with a jeweller named Rachel.
So I was starting to spend more nights in Ballarat, and Frankie was starting to be by herself.
Because my new partner had a dog called Nav, who’s a Staffy cross, and he’s a one dog dude.
Nav’s a lovely bloke, but he finds it very difficult to get along with other blokes and he's very territorial; and very protective of Rach.
Brought Frankie in... Nav latched onto her. Like, latched onto her.
And we've seen Nav do this with other dogs, we’ve seen him do it with puppies.
He’s not aggressive, he's just dominant. He’s a dominant male.
And this is his house, and this is how it worked from there.
I kind of went, am I gonna come home and find my cocker spaniel with one ear?
Well, we had a chat... we saw each other for about a year, or maybe six months, and we decided we wanted to move in together.
You’ve got a slightly neurotic cocker spaniel that you’ve spent a year getting up to some level of normalcy…
And then, we both run a business from home, that means there's lots of people coming through.
There’s lots of change here.
And I just thought God, I don’t think Frankie’s gonna cope with all this.
I think Nav’s gonna be a nightmare and she’s gonna bark at everything that moves in Ballarat, and I don’t think she’s gonna cope.
So I had to sit back and go, Well what do I do here?
In a new relationship you want things to go as smoothly as it possibly can.
What do I do?
What he did was call his Mum.
By this time, Mick’s mum had been caring for Frankie quite a bit and had grown to love her.
But no, she couldn’t take on a dog permanently.
She did however, have a wide circle of friends. And she said she’d put the word out, that Frankie needed a home.
The night I said, “I’m thinking I might have to re-home Frankie”
(and it was heartbreaking to think like that); my Mum was talking to one of her friends at tennis…
When out of the blue, this friend of his mother’s said,
“You don’t know anybody who’s got a two to three year old cocker spaniel do you?
I’ve got a friend that’s just had a second child, she’s a stay-at-home mum,
she's got a big property down the Bellarine Peninsula, she's got a big Labrador,
and she's looking for a little cocker spaniel to be part of their family”.
And so it just seemed like an extraordinary coincidence.
So I got in touch with this woman, and she was just delightful. She spoils her dogs rotten.
And I came home and had a bit of a think about it,
and I think all things being equal it's probably a better place for Frankie to go
She wouldn't be in here fretting.
And if Nav had of hurt her in any way, shape or form...
I don't know…
At the time I had to make a decision and that was the decision I made: and I decided to re-home her.
Yeah, so I drove down to Geelong, and up until that day, no one else could touch her.
And that first time she met her new owner, she went up and allowed herself to be patted, and went for a little walk, and I’d never seen that before.
So it made me think there’d been some rehabilitative process going on there.
She was a bit wild when I first got her, and in a year she was sitting, and walking on a leash.
And all those niceties and manners you hope for in a dog. It was lovely.
She'd been to Mick’s finishing school.
That's exactly right, that's what it was like.
It was one of those things: it’s that, if you love something you have to let it go.
If you want what's best, I really wanted what was best for her…
So… I gave her to these new people. And… it was the best thing for her.
As it had been on Frankie’s first night, so it was on the last day,
Mick had a word, as she was being loaded into the new family’s car.
I just said to her, “I love you to bits”.
I said, “You’ve been the best little dog I ever could hope for. I want you to be good.
And I want you to help these people as much as you've helped me”.
And I just said thank you. I said thank you to her.
And I know that’s silly and sentimental. I just said thank you.
And I said, “You're just going your forever home now”.
There's a tremendous thing in dogs, which I think is amazing.
They just help so much, in so many situations. They really do. And If you ask for help, dogs just give it to you, they really do,
and it's an extraordinary thing, that such a thing exists.
Mick will admit to a little online stalking of Frankie, even now
And every now and then on the Cocker Spaniel page on Facebook
She comes up and I try not to...
I just go, “Oh that’s great, you know, that’s really good”.
And I’ve had contact with the people and she's happy and fat and she's got ribbons in her hair;
and she's got a big fat Labrador brother, and she’s got a family to love, and she runs along the beach,
And they adore her, they absolutely adore her, and she is spoilt rotten.
So she's finally got a home. I still think I made the right decision.
I mean I miss her, I miss her dreadfully, I still miss her every day.
But I’m really glad I was able to get her off the really terrible situation she was in.
She would have just become a puppy factory.
Mick’s also in a good place.
His tinnitus is minimal, manageable; his hearing’s almost back to normal.
And so he can play gigs again - low key ones.
And Mick, and Rachel's dog, Nav, have come to an agreement.
When I moved in here he was boss cockatoo, he ran the joint.
And we had to have a talk about that.
And Nav, in the time I've been here, which is a couple of years now,
has become one of the most polite, obedient, mannered and friendly animals I've ever come across.
I’ve got to admit I was a bit resentful of him when I first moved in.
I blamed him a little bit… which is stupid.
Just for being aggressive toward Frankie, and having to make that decision.
But it took me about 6 months to a year to get him to just be, and I know I’m probably biased,
But I reckon he's as close to a perfect dog as I've ever come across. He’s a really lovely dog.
Huge thanks to Mick Trembath for sharing his story about Frankie.
Special thanks to Rachel and Nav for having me around to record.
For more information about tinnitus, you can find links on our website, ohmydogpodcast dot com.
There are pictures of Frankie and Nav there too.
Just to let you know, Mick did report the suspected puppy farm to the authorities and it’s being watched,
Oh My Dog is produced by me, Michelle Ransom-Hughes for Alongside Radio;
With original music and sound design by Seja Vogel .
Script consulting, Lea Redfern.
Stay listening after the song, there’s an update, about Frankie...
SONG: Frankie (by Seja)
Not so long ago Mick’s heart skipped a beat.
He was browsing the Bellarine Peninsula cocker spaniel fancier’s Facebook page... and he saw Frankie’s photo, on a Missing Dog post.
Somebody had smashed a lock and stolen her!
And so the whole cocker spaniel fanciers crew down at the Bellarine Peninsula mounted this big search party.
They eventually found her and returned her in about a 48 hour period.
It was great. It was like a Disney movie:
“Finally gets a forever home! But…”
Of course her owners were distraught, but like I say, she’s just returned home.
And apparently she enjoys warm porridge, so she ate warm porridge and had a sleep.
and there's all the photos of tears and love...
So, to know she’s in a family where, not only the family went looking for her
But an entire community, a whole neighbourhood of people, there were 50 or 60 people out all looking for her,
makes me think she’s in a very good place.
(Giggles from both)