Nigel Tuffs

(at KEGS 1964-1971) writing in 2021

I attended KEGS from 1964 until 1971. Living in Lakenheath, the sixteen mile journey took an hour in a clunker of an old double decker bus that was an icebox in winter and one of my least pleasant memories of school. Academically, I did OK up until GCEs – at least by my own estimation, if not that of the teaching staff. However, the only major disaster was Physics where ‘Ting’ Martin lost me at the first Wheatstone bridge! Unfortunate really, as this would have been the most useful subject in my subsequent chosen career (if only we’d known then what we know now!). After ‘O’ levels and at the age of 15, I took myself off to Biggin Hill for an interview to join the RAF as a pilot. I passed this, or at least I thought I had, although in fact there was a second batch of tests to follow before joining. I had (erroneously) assumed this was a formality and was only faced with the question of what to do until I would be old enough to join at seventeen and a half. Sixth form had a significant edge over working in a factory or driving a tractor. Thus, I cannot blame any teacher for my lacklustre performance in ‘A’ levels – mea culpa! My daughters even dispute that my grades qualify as passes, but I retort with an explanation of grade devaluation through to today! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the geography field trips with Johny Reed and still bore the whole family with (questionable) explanations of geomorphology when we go hiking. Also, the quick fire times tables we continued throughout ‘A’ level Maths came in handy with the many mental calculations required in aviation. I’ve also called on my French (which possibly explains the hostility shown by the French in Brexit negotiations) although not so much on the existential philosophy of Albert Camus. Perhaps Covid has just made sense of his book, La Peste (The Plague)! My nadir was being ‘breathalysed’ by Pete Smeltzer returning from a lunchtime pint – no blowing in a bag – just a twist of the ear and a sniff of your breath!

I did not carry my lack of enthusiasm over to extra-curricular activities. I tried just about everything in a fruitless search for something at which I could excel. Drama seemed to offer benefits, with the rumour that girls from the County Grammar might be joining productions! However, I suffered from typecasting and a drunken sailor in The Tempest was followed by Poins, a young carousing ne’er do well drinking buddy of Henry IV. My main focus was on the sports field and it was not unusual to play some form of football five times a day. It was here I found my closest buddies, but I never actually achieved colours due to discrimination – against short people! Well, that’s my excuse! Perhaps this lack of stature should have dissuaded me from joining in with the rugby when Mr Peacock introduced it, but no, and I collected many bruises from some of the bigger louts in the Upper Sixth. Unfortunately, I was quite good at cross country, which I hated, but I suspect that this could have been that the rest of the field stopped off for a quick fag at the farm yard. Similarly, I’m sure that being captain of one of the hockey teams was because it was perhaps the least
popular of the winter sports.

In any event, I was never interested in tertiary education (I know, – didn’t realise what I was missing out on!) and joined the RAF in the September after ‘A’ levels. After 3 years of training, I joined my first fighter squadron flying the supersonic Lightning in 1974. I served a total of twenty years, flying a variety of fast jet types including the Jaguar and in an exchange with the USAF I was an F 15 instructor pilot. My last tour was as the Weapons Instructor on the Tornado F3, where I became one of only 2 crews to circumnavigate the world in a Tornado fighter aircraft. I was deployed to Saudi Arabia when Saddam invaded Kuwait, but had returned home before the shooting started. On leaving the RAF at the end of 1991, I was honoured to be awarded the MBE, which I was proud to collect from HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

A quieter period followed as I joined Cathay Pacific Airways flying passenger aircraft out of Hong Kong. This included many approaches through the high rise buildings of the city into the old Kai Tak airport. I stayed with Cathay for 22 years, flying the Tristar, Boeing747 Jumbo and the Boeing 777. I retired in 2014 as a Captain, Training and Check, on the B747, having flown to many global destinations and on many boring long haul routes. We left Hong Kong and returned to live in a former farmhouse on Exmoor with my long-suffering wife of 47 years, Cyndi. When we are not fixing house and garden we like to get out hiking across the sedimentary rocks of Exmoor (!), or discovering that golf is another sport in which I will never excel! We have two wonderful adult daughters and six grandsons from 24 to 9 years of age.

Despite spending most of our recent lives living in Hong Kong, we did manage to attend a few School Reunions many years ago and it was great to meet with old friends that I had not seen since leaving the school in 1971. It would be wonderful if the situation with the pandemic allows a reunion this year and, being the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the ‘Year of 71’, a good turnout from our particular cohort.