The illustrations in Cat Patrol are by Peter Bailey, who is married to Sian Bailey, who illustrated Green Fingers. When I was a student at the University of East Anglia I shared a house with some other students in a small Norfolk village. We used to sit outside on summer evenings watching the swifts doing their aerobatic displays in the sky. Then, one evening, I found a small bird fluttering about in the bushes. I thought it might be hurt, or maybe it was a baby, so I took it inside and tried to give it some food, but it didn’t eat.
We kept the bird in a cage for a day or two, but it still didn’t eat, and when we tried to let it go, it just crashed into the bushes again.
Then we went to the pub one evening and told the landlord about the bird. ‘It’s a swift,’ he said, without even seeing it. ‘You take it up on the roof and let it go. It’ll fly, you’ll see.’
So I took it upstairs and climbed outside onto the flat roof of our kitchen. Then I threw the bird into the air. I still think it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, just like Ben in the story. And it is true that swifts never land on the ground, but eat on the wing and drop out of their nests into the air. If they do land they find it very hard to get airborne again.
There are swifts nesting in the tower of the Oxford Museum of Natural History and they have a webcam of their own! You can visit them here… (but best wait for the spring!) http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/swifts.htm