Portrait of the Academic as a Student: Kym Martindale

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What did you study, where, and why?

At Oxford Polytechnic, between 1977-1980, I studied on one of the first modular degrees, and took a combined BA in English and History of Art. I also did Italian in my first year, and a music module in the second year. I was 20 when I went to Oxford Polytechnic, having been a year at art college, before working as a volunteer care assistant in a Cheshire Home in Axbridge, Somerset. That made me feel about 100 years older than my peers, who were pretty green. There were also a lot of old Harrovians about the place, doing Business HNDs. They were fascinating to me, even as I hated them for their easy assumptions about privilege and opportunity. They were like glittering aliens. 

Did you change at university, and if so, how?

I grew up in North Yorkshire, in the 1970s, knowing I was gay, and keeping it desperately quiet. But, in Oxford, in 1977, feminism and gay rights were in full bloom, and after my first year, I spent most of my time being engaged in lesbian feminist politics of one kind or another. It was heady stuff, all mixed up with punk and ska, as well as Troops Out - you name it, we protested about it. We ran a magazine, we set up the Oxford Lesbian Line, which ran alongside Gay Switchboard, and my girlfriend had a disco deck. She set up in business as No Man's Land, and we had Women Only Discos (one very busy night, we had 17 punters), but we also did benefits for miners and steelworkers on strike. I changed alright, but it was largely outside of my studies that I did so - and inevitably, my studies took a back seat. It was magic. I also cut my hair and gave up wearing skirts.

What was the soundtrack of your Oxford years?

Punk, Ska and Two-Tone dominated my turntable, along with some disco sounds like Chic;  and in the late 1970s, we were smitten by this lead singer of a band called the Tourists. But I never stopped loving classical music either, and one night, my then girlfriend and I went to hear the Brahms Requiem performed in the Sheldonian Theatre, before going on to a gay club in town, and I thought life could not get sweeter than this.

If you could meet your 20 year-old self, what would you say to them?

'Don't be so anti-intellectual.' I made the mistake of confusing intellectual pursuits with authoritarianism, and I turned away, for some time, from 'thinking'. I understand why: in the 1970s we were fighting to get stuff on to university curricula, that I am now privileged to teach, but which is now a given. But I lost out too, and wasted a lot of energy kicking the wrong shins. Then, again, I would also say, 'good work on Oxford Lesbian Line - you're making history'.

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