My grandmother is a rare old bird. At 83, she works on a market stall selling dolls, has bright red (dyed) hair, and frequently wins line dancing medals. But thereâ€™s no denying the stubbornness of old women, and she can be a royal pain in the rear when it comes to being â€˜rightâ€™.
For example, a few years ago I had an exchange with her in which she insisted that psychics had abilities which no-one could explain. After discussing cold reading and the ethics attached to the profession, I pointed out that if one genuinely had a gift, one wouldnâ€™t be charging Â£10 a time to read palms at the local funfair. She thought about this for a moment then said â€œyes, real psychics donâ€™t charge moneyâ€. That settled the matter to her, and I couldnâ€™t persuade her any further.
Sheâ€™s used mediums and psychics several times over her lifetime, and although I wouldnâ€™t call her a woo, sheâ€™s always favoured the mystery explanation over the scientific. Being a working class girl who ran away to join the army aged 16, she relies heavily on luck and fate for her worldview, as theyâ€™re easy ways to explain why life might have dealt her a rough hand. And at her age, I wouldnâ€™t expect her to change that philosophy, especially as sheâ€™s likely to be thinking about death a lot. The afterlife is probably more comforting to those closer to it.
However, my journey into organised skepticism has been the source of some curiosity in my family, and they take an interest in â€œwhatever it is I do in Vegas every yearâ€. My grandmother, being old and a shade into dottiness, doesnâ€™t quite have a handle on the specifics though, so I was amused and surprised when I had the following exchange with her this week. Rather than simply type it, I have made an agony-aunt style photo story for your amusement. I promise this is word for word, and also really photos of us.
I am tempted to just leave the story there, cryptic and surreal. But instead I will tell you that she didnâ€™t mean David Blaine, for obvious reasons. She actually meant â€˜Baby Mind-Readerâ€™ Derek Ogilvie, the subject of a UK documentary on Thursday in which Derek applies for Randiâ€™s Million Dollar Challenge andâ€¦well, take a guess. Better still, if youâ€™re in the UK, watch the show. USAians will have to wait til someone YouTubes it, sadly. Iâ€™ll post a link as soon as I find one.
Anyway, Iâ€™m not sure if at 83 my nan qualifies as the oldest skeptic, but as sheâ€™s just about to watch her first James Randi footage, she certainly qualifies as the newest.