Flute the newt

Flute the newt looks nothing like a flute. He was named by his mother (who is called Boo) because she plays the panpipes in the local orchestra. She thought that if she named her son ‘Flute’, the conductor of the orchestra (Professor Hoot) might let play her dream instrument, the flute. 

It is quite hard to follow Boo’s reasoning here. It didn’t happen. Boo still plays the panpipes, and Professor Hoot continues to search for flute players. Anyway, the name stuck. But Flute the newt refuses to play his namesake, despite his mother constantly badgering him to do so. At every moment, Boo forces Flute to play a flute. She even crafted a beautiful piccolo (a miniature flute) for him out of a rotten branch on the edges of the swamp, but he refuses to play it. She takes him – kicking and dragging – to every orchestra rehearsal. But Flute always refuses to play or have anything to do with it. 

One day, everyone is upset. Boo has brought her stroppy adolescent newt offspring to the rehearsal, in the wettest part of the swamp where they all live. He rejects all commands and is making a lot of ugly noise. Professor Hoot is fed up. He walks over to the adolescent newt and prods him with his conducting baton, to encourage Flute to either behave, or make music (or both). 

Our newt is so upset by this assault that he closes up and goes completely silent. Everyone shouts at him, laughs at him. He does not respond. From now on, he becomes known as ‘Flute the mute newt’. This name-calling becomes bullying, as various animals leer and cry at Flute, teasing him because they know he won’t or can’t respond. Poor Flute.

This experience becomes a lightbulb moment. Flute decides that he is never going to be a musician. He is never going to live according to his mother and Professor Hoot the conductor’s wishes. He is going to change everything. Flute swaggers off, as fast as possible, away from the rehearsal hall, and travels to the edges of the stinky swamp. He needs to work out an action plan.  


Flute half sinks, half floats, submerged in the heavy globby water full of rotten vegetation and insects. He rests his head on a lump of mud, delicately filtered into a soft pillow. He has so much in his head. Many decisions need to be made. Flute can’t see anyone else in the swamp. He tips his head and actively listens. 

“There’s no one is around,” he says, as loudly as he can. “I’m only mute when people are around to judge me. It’s not a disease, it’s a natural reaction to events that I could not control. I need to get out of here and start again. Is anyone there? I hope not.”

“I’m here,” Flute hears a croaky voice. 

“Oh no, someone has heard me, what should I do? I better shut up and never say anything ever again, even to myself.” Flute means to think this remark, in his head, but he says it out loud. Flute is not sure how to react. He’s never been heard before, only shouted or made to conform to a stereotype he dislikes and which in the end abused him.

“I am here, I can see you, I hear you.”

“What is it, a ghost? Did I die? Where am I? Who am I? Alone in the swamp…” These are Flute the newt’s thoughts, which he whispers.

Out of nowhere jumps a small greeny-brown toad. Flute the newt is taken aback. He has never seen this toad in the swamp before. “Who are you?” he says, no longer silenced.

“My name is Shona the toad. I’ve been keeping a low profile, in the shadows. No one knows I exist. My mother and my siblings abandoned and forgot about me, just after I hatched out of my spawn. I don’t belong here in this swamp. It stinks. I have no friends. I want to go away somewhere and live somewhere different. I heard you calling out. I don’t think anyone else heard you; I don’t think anyone else hears you. Shall we go somewhere different?”

Flute replies, “Hullo Shona, thank you so much for reaching out. I’m deadly serious about this, so much is at stake. My reputation, my livelihood, my future.”

“It seems to me that you don’t have much of a reputation around here – Flute the non-flute newt, named after something you abhor and refuse. You are also known as being mute – or not mute (now). Am I right?”

“Yes. Let’s go away from here.”

The newt and the toad don’t know where they’re going. They swim, they paddle, they clamber, they climb, they follow their noses through the dark, thick, rotten swamp. 

“Let’s aim towards the east,” suggests Flute. “East rhymes with yeast. I do like my breadcrumbs, my favourite morsel to eat. Yeast makes bread rise. If we go towards y-east, our future may rise, and we may find bread to eat. Then we can nourish ourselves and be happy.”

Shona replies, “I can’t quite follow that logic. But, I agree – let’s go east. Do you have a compass?”

“Did you not know that newts have an inbuilt compass? It is part of my anatomy; I always know where I am going.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. But let’s go.”

It is the dead of night. The pair of unlikely, new friends potter off. They don’t know where they’re going. They loiter and lunge over the long thick length of swamp. Flute gets stuck and sinks beneath the surface. The swamp is quicksand, Flute sinks lower and lower. He can’t get out.

“Help!” he shrieks, as he feels himself being pulled downwards beneath the surface of the swamp. “I’m dying. Help pull me out, Shona toad!”

Shona is also a bit stuck. But they pull each other out and carry on breathlessly, without stopping. After a while of splodging around in the darkness, Fluke asks, “Do we know where we going?” 

“I thought you knew where we are going. Your inner compass?” replies Shona.

“Ummm,” grumbles Flute. “It’s a bit out of practice. I suggest you decide the route and give directions.”

“We’ll go anywhere,” says Shona. “I’m sure you agree. We’ll go anywhere, away from this swamp, where we are forced into being other than our true selves. We can’t be true here. Let’s go far, far away!”

The toad and the newt carry on with their journey. They soon realise that they are sucked into a labyrinth. They go around and around in a big circle, meeting obstacles and dead ends, which challenge their route. Shona attempts to choose where they should go, as they try to get out of the swamp. But all navigating leads towards another dead end. They are blocked in.

“Oh no,” shrieks Flute, when yet another turn impedes their path. “Why can’t we get out of here?”

“Let us pause for a second,” suggests Shona. “I remember now. This labyrinth on the edges of the swamp is famous because it has an entrance, but no exit. There is only a way in; no way out.”

“Oh no!” wails Flute. “Why did you not tell me this before? What are we to do?”

“We need to tunnel downwards, underneath the labyrinth,” suggests Shona. “There should be a layer of minerals, beneath the stinky mud. I was once told that there is a whole new world beneath the swamp…”

“That sounds promising,” replies Flute. “We better check, is anyone following us? The swamp seems awfully quiet.”

“A good thing, surely?” comments Shona. “We don’t want to be found. Ever.”

“Yes, I suppose. We are the only animals around. It’s just you and me, caught in the labyrinth. I haven’t seen a single animal since I left the orchestra. Where has everyone gone?”


All the animals in the swamp are attending what is promised to be a very important, serious meeting, held in the local swamp-hockey stadium. It is the Swamp AGM (Annual General Meeting).  The stadium is packed. There are several loudspeakers. Doses of breadcrumbs are flung to the crowds by a team of bats. Background music is swooshing around the arena (blowy panpipes, played by Boo).

Suddenly, Professor Hoot appears, looming over the crowd. He is hoisted above them, on a crane made from a branch coming out of the nearest bush. Everyone knows Professor Hoot. He is mayor of the swamp town, in addition to being conductor of the orchestra. The hockey stadium falls quiet, as Professor Hoot begins to speak. His voice is projected across the clumpy, smelly swamp.

“Welcome to the Swamp AGM, fellow swampers,” he says. “We have so much to discuss. Batty otter, please can you take minutes for this meeting? Firstly, a matter extremely close to my heart. The swamp needs a new theme tune.”

There are gasps of disbelief. “What?” says Harriet the bat. “He said this meeting was important! We have come all the way here, and he just wants some catchy music? I was in the middle of eating my favourite toad in the hole before I was disturbed and made to come to this meeting!”

Other swampers agree. “Who cares about a theme tune?” asks Batty the otter. “We should be talking about the price of bird crumbs, the allocation of housing, benefits, the swamp healthcare service, and more.”

The animals bicker and complain. Professor Hoot tries to return the discussion to his theme tune, but no one is interested.

 “Excuse me,” says Boo. “I have a pressing point to raise.”

“Can’t you wait until we have finished discussing the theme tune?” says Professor Hoot.

“Afraid not. I’ve lost my Flute. Has anyone seen him?”

Professor Hoot sighs and sniggers, “Your loss is our gain. Now, who will compose…”

“That’s a very unkind thing to say,” cries Boo. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, Flute who can’t play the flute, he’s not a very useful newt. Probably best if he goes to live somewhere else.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this, Professor hoot. I am your background music; I am your number one panpipes musician. I will not have you talk about my son in such a rude way.”

“He’s right,” Harriet bat. “Flute the newt is a waste of space.”

Peter otter, taking minutes, says, “Am I supposed to be writing all this down? It’s pretty defamatory. Can we get down to business?”

“Quite right,” says Professor Hoot. “The theme tune!”

“I will repeat myself,” repeats Boo, in an affirmative voice, “and I will not have negativity. I’ve lost my son, my very dear son. I need a search party.”

“I know where he is, and he ain’t coming back,” responds Turnip the toad.

“Where did you see him? Let’s go there immediately.”

“I saw him jump into the labyrinth with my old friend, Shona toad. They’re both outcasts – Shona and Flute. They will live in the labyrinth forever. There’s no way out! No point searching for them, we will have to leave them to follow their own destiny.”

The entire congregation at the meeting in the swamp hockey pitch gasps. The idea that someone is trapped in the labyrinth is terrifying and awful.

“He should’ve listened to me, when I taught him in Sunday school,” says an old animal, Tilly the water shrew. “I warned Flute the newt never to go anywhere near the labyrinth. It’s impossible to get out. He didn’t listen to me!”

“He listens to no one,” says Boo. “But I must find him, he is my son. Who will help me?” 

Turnip the toad replies, “I will help, I want to save my friend Shona. I will bring all the toads, terrapins and frogs with me.”

“I have an idea,” says Boo. “Let us demolish the labyrinth!”

Professor Hoot responds in a damning cry, “NO! It is illegal. I make it illegal to ruin and demolish the labyrinth. It is our protection from the outside world. If you demolish it, the swamp has no protection. We are damned. I repeat, do not demolished labyrinth. Find another way.”

“If they went into the labyrinth, they can get out of it, “says Boo. “What we need is a bird or a bat to fly vertically and scout out for them from above.”

“What about my theme tune?” asks Professor Hoot. “Let’s get back to our meeting. Actions. Number one. Create a catchy, fun, addictive theme tune for the swamp community. I shall be playing the theme tune each morning before every activity in our area. Who is going to enter the competition for the theme tune?”

Professor Hoot looks around him, everyone has gone. The entire meeting has disbanded. The swamp population is more interested in an exciting adventure trying to rescue two characters from the labyrinth.


Shona and Flute no nothing is this. They don’t want to be rescued. They are in the middle of the labyrinth, slightly scared and daunted by their sheer disorientation, feeling so lost, but also enjoying the adventure. “Let’s dig, here!” suggests Shona.

“I’m not really built to do digging,” says Flute, dubiously.

“This is our only solution, our only way out! Come along, Flute!” urges Shona.

Neither the toad nor the newt have ever practised digging before. But there is no other solution. They try to move the bottom layer of swampy mud and silt, with their weak hands and fingers. The soil hardly moves. They just make a big mess. The rotten mud goes in their eyes and nostrils. They can’t breathe. 

“Abandon ship!” says Shona, with a cough. “This isn’t going to work.”

Relieved, Flute stops digging. The two friends return to the surface of the swamp. They gasp the stinky air and take a moment to consider what to do next.

“I don’t think it is possible to escape from the swamp,” says Flute. “It looks like we will be stuck in the labyrinth forever. Oh dear. I am sad. I am also hungry. Have you got any snacks in your bum-bag, Shona?”

“Yes!” replies Shona. “Would you like to share a dried ,rotten slug? I always like to keep a snack handy, in my travel bum-bag, which I fasten around my middle. Let’s eat and decide a strategy.”

As Shona and Flute chew morsels of a dried, rotten slug, no bright ideas come to them. They have no bright ideas. But, as they chomp and gnaw on the slug, things don’t seem too bad at all.

“Let’s have a short power-nap,” suggests Flute. “Then we can work out next steps.”

“You are full of good ideas at the moment,” replies Shona.

The two amphibians relax in the soft, murky swamp. Leaning up against a hard barrier, blocking their way out of the swamp, they fall asleep.

As Flute slumbers, he puckers his mouth into a circle and begins to blow through it. Flute the newt is whistling in his sleep, and it sounds just like he is playing a flute.

Shona wakes up, hearing this soft, sweet, vibrating sound. She sees that Flute is making such a radiant noise, whilst he is still asleep. She is transfixed, and begins to sing gently, in time to Flute’s whistling:

“We’re stuck in the swamp,

We’ll stay here forever,

It’s a lifelong endeavour,

Whatever the weather,

I suppose it’s a treasure.

The swamp, the swamp,

We’re always in the swamp.”


Boo has assembled an army of helpers. “Onwards,” she says. “Let us find Flute and Shona. They must be together. Please can Harriet the bat fly overhead, as a drone, and see if you can spot them?”

The team spend a long time bustling about, making lots of noise, and not really looking where they are going. “I can’t see a thing,” says Boo. 

Eventually, they stop running around in circles and pause. “What’s that?” asks Harriet bat.

“What?” asks Boo

“Be quiet, I can hear something.”

The team hear a very feint sound. It is Flute, whistling in his sleep. “I know who that is!” says Boo. “It’s my boy! Someone is singing with him! It must be Shona. What a beautiful sound!”

There is great excitement. The team rush over to where the sound is coming from. Very quickly, they reach Flute and Shona, who are not far away at all. Boo is about to shriek, and the rest of the swampers are on the cusp of breaking into almighty applause, when they see that Flute is asleep. Shona puts her finger to her lips, says “Sssshhh…” and carries on singing her tune.

“We’re stuck in the swamp,

We’ll stay here forever,

It’s a lifelong endeavour,

Whatever the weather,

I suppose it’s a treasure.

The swamp, the swamp,

We’re always in the swamp.”

Soon, everyone joins in with the chorus. Each swamper creature plays their own part. They sing in a beautiful harmony. When Flute wakes up from his very deep sleep, he is extremely confused by all the commotion around him. But everyone keeps singing. The swampers celebrate their community, brought together by Flute’s sleep-whistling. Before he knows what he is doing, Flute’s mouth opens, and he carries on whistling (awake, this time). 

Professor Hoot hears the sound of the singing and comes over, at once. He has found his theme tune. The animals have never felt more united in and grateful for their stinky swamp surroundings.