Sue Limb: The Cringing Game

As an adult, of course, you should have learned how to take criticism

As an adult, of course, you should have learned how to take criticism - Credit: Archant

If I was a dog I’d be permanently in the submissive posture, doleful pleading eyes, my body curled round like a croissant, looking at people backwards over my own arse

Do you just shrug off criticism? ‘Water off a duck’s back’. ‘Hide like an elephant’ . ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’? Are you impervious to criticism? I’m terribly pervious. As pervious as a string vest in an Arctic gale.

Right from the off, the brickbats flew. I was born horribly wrinkled, scaly and grumpy and my mother’s disappointment is still evident in the Baby’s Progress Book in which she recorded my lack of progress. “First smiled on October 17th – and not since” she wrote. Rather bitchily in my view.

I went on to be a disappointing child. I remember my mum and dad returning from a Parents’ Evening at my junior school and telling me, “Mr Godwin says you’ll never be much of a mathematician”. I hated maths and I knew I wasn’t very good at it, but it was terribly wounding of Mr Godwin to have said that. I shut myself in my bedroom and wept into my bear – who also, incidentally, despised me.

As a teenager of course my loathsomeness increased. My school reports grew darker in tone. “Susan must cultivate a much more gracious manner…” OK, so I was going through my scowling and slouching phase, but did the German teacher really have to mention it? It might have been tasteless of me to imitate Hitler and be caught in the act of goose-stepping, but a more sympathetic observer might have seen this as The Dawn of Satire. A much more gracious manner? I’m still smarting from that, and I’m sorry to say I still haven’t developed a gracious manner. Get over it!!!

Then, though I managed to get in to university, my supervisors saw through me. I’d always enjoyed writing essays, but sometimes mere enjoyment wasn’t enough. I should really have read the set books and delivered some ideas instead of repeating gossip about Milton’s marriage. Often I was just too busy lying in bed and eating important biscuits to do justice to Paradise Lost. At the bottom of one of my essays my teacher wrote, “Cliché-ridden journalistic rubbish”. I’m so ashamed. I really don’t know why I’m telling you this. Though if you’re a regular reader you might feel that I have kept up that standard ever since.

As an adult, of course, you should have learned how to take criticism. It helps, of course, if you can also dish it out. But I have smuggled rotten fish out of restaurants in my handbag rather than complain. I even say “Bad dog!” with a kind of apologetic, cringing air.

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If I was a dog, I’d be permanently in the submissive posture, ears folded back , doleful pleading eyes, my body curled round like a croissant, looking at people backwards over my own arse. Maybe I should do this anyway if there’s a chance it might deflect criticism and endear me to my fellow humans. What do you think?

I wrote some sit coms for Radio 4 recently, a parody of the Bloomsbury Group called Gloomsbury. In fact, the third series starts on May 29 at 11.30am. Please don’t think this whole column has been leading up to a shameless plug for my series. How could you think that? I’m deeply hurt.

Plenty of people enjoyed the first two series and were kind enough to say so, but the really memorable comment was the man who tweeted, “Couldn’t get to the Off switch fast enough”.

Comedy is a very personal taste, of course. Why should I require absolute admiration? Why shouldn’t I tolerate a bit of healthy criticism? I have a horrid feeling that if I was a politician, I’d be Kim Jong Limb.

At this time of year I’m often in the greenhouse, fussing over my sweet pea seedlings and young tomato plants. But what I really need to grow is a spine.

We’re planning to have a goose next Christmas, and I’m hoping to be able to say boo to it. OK, it won’t actually be flapping and hissing in a threatening way, but managing to say boo to a dead, roasted goose would at least be a start.


This article by Sue Limb is from the 2015 issue of Cotswold Life magazine