Marketing literature for post-war playing cards sing of their bright, permanent colours, but card games initially reminded me of being caged indoors by winter weather in the suburban house where I grew up with two older siblings. Our natural habitat was always the garden, and indoors we chorused, ‘I’m bored’. As squabbling escalated our mother suggested we play games and cautioned, ‘birds in a nest don’t fight’ (although in fact some species practice strategic siblicide!).
It was the colours that led me to goldfinches. With red, black and white heads and a bar of yellow across the black wing, they flash against dull winter landscapes or against their favourite food plant, dead thistle, from which their Latin name derives — wait for it – Carduelis carduelis.
Of its many vernacular names – gowdspink in Scots, redcap, King Harry — one particularly caught my eye. The ‘tailor bird’ describes how the white tips of its feathers appear in flight like stitches. The occupational suites of Happy Families nudged into my mind; a game we often played and, ironically, often fought over. I loved the idea of the deck of cards tiring of us, and taking their chance to migrate dazzlingly south.