The pet I’ll never forget: We saved Nelson the kitten from certain death – and he taught me the best way to live

<span>Nelson the one-eyed kitten.</span><span>Photograph: Max Wallis</span>
Nelson the one-eyed kitten.Photograph: Max Wallis

The farmer was going to drown the kitten because he had an abscess in one eye and was feral, biting everything. But some vets were there to help with lambing, and the farmer agreed Nelson could be taken in and rehomed.

It was 2005; I was 16 and my sister, five years older than me, was on a work placement at a vet surgery in Preston as part of her university training. Nelson’s eye was removed, as were his testicles, and it was decided he would be taken in by my family, in nearby Chorley.

What we didn’t know was that early neutering affects a cat’s metabolism. Nelson grew much bigger until, more than a decade later, he was almost the size of my sister’s terrier. In the end, Dad had to carry him to the vet in a pillowcase inside a box because he wouldn’t fit in the cat carrier. Whenever he looked at you – with that one eye – it was as though he was winking, like he was in on a joke at your expense.

He taught me a lot about not giving a toss. Lord Nelson, as he was promoted, was like a little dauphin who had to have his own way. He’d sit against the wall, back paws stretched out, belly heaving over them, looking at you as if to say: “What? It’s my house and you’re my courtiers.” If he spoke I think he would have sounded like Jim from The Royle Family. If he could have laughed, it would have been a dirty laugh.

We used to call him Sandbag, as he weighed almost as much. Then, when he got fleas, he became Fleabag. He got so big he couldn’t clean himself properly. And yet he could jump on to our garden wall, which was 7ft high. He would go missing for a day or two, and then we’d find him at the front door, drenched from the rain. We lived by a main road, and I always wondered which other houses he went to and how he managed to avoid the traffic.

When I was back home for Christmas one year, I woke up to Nelson in the bed, having done a commando crawl under the covers. Another time, my boyfriend woke up cuddling him instead of me. He was affectionate and dependable. When I was ill, he’d curl up by my belly.

We lost him in 2019 – he just lay down outside and died in the sun. He was lazy and did things on his own terms. He taught me not to give a rat’s.

Not bad for a feral farm cat.