A Tribute to Lord Nelli, my One-eyed Champion, my Hero

Like every village in the Garfagnana, Italy, the cobbled streets of Vitiana were patrolled by disease-riddled, though very cute, feral moggies.  This one particular moggy was a scrawny wee tabby kitten, with stunted legs.  One of many.  He may never have stood out from the crowd if it had not been for the wopping great abscess over his right eye. 


The abscess grew, as did our concern.  So we soon caught him and took him to a vet for inspection.  It took the vet, her assistant and myself, to hold down this miniscule ball of furry fury.  Alas, the infection had eaten away his whole eyeball, and so began the adventure of the ‘Piratino’.


That all happened in the summer of 2004, when he and his siblings were still very small.  They grew, and one by one they died.  Until there remained just two.  The pirate Lord Nelson – insanely courageous, short-legged, one-eyed, yet still extremely handsome.  And Baby Grey – the spitting image of their very pretty mother Mamma Grey.  They hung out with their cousins – Minster, Mo, Dobi, Gollum, Ronina, and a mystery kitten Tiddler.  Over the summer we watched, fed, and got to know the individual characters of this group of ruffians. 

At some point in the winter of 2004/2005 Lord Nelli, who had not grown much, had a life changing experience.  The weather was bitter cold and snowing, and Nelli had disappeared.  We presumed he had perished in the cold.  A few weeks later he reappeared … with ambitions.  From that moment on, everything he did in life was designed for one purpose only  – to be an indoor cat.


They came as a pair.  Nelli and Baby.  Everywhere Nelli went, Baby cautiously followed.  Nelli instantly became soft and trusting.  With Baby it took years to earn that trust.


Nelli was utterly fearless.  He had nine lives and he was going to use them!  He befriended anyone, and stole many hearts.  He turned us green with envy when he shared his time and affection with others.  He marched in to open doors, exploring houses, like he owned them all.  He owned the world.

That one eye grew large.  That one eye showed such emotion.  That one eye showed his moods.  And oh what moods.  That one eye made me fall helplessly head over heels in love.


Nelli the loving – when he chose to love you, there was no choice but to be loved and love back.  He would smother you in kisses and purrs all over your face.  Soggy ones. 


Nelli the purr machine.  He purred like his life depended on it.  And he purred so easily.  I only had to look at him across a room and he would purr.  That purr filled my heart with joy.  That purr cheered me up and out of gloom many a time.

Nelli the mischievous – he could find a game with anything, an elastic band, a loose thread, laundry hanging on a clothes horse, feet under the duvet, invisible mice.  Trees were for climbing.  Space was for racing around in.  Small objects were for pouncing on.  And other cats were for winding up.  Particularly his brother.  Baby was the best toy of all. 

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Nelli the aggressive.  There was also the other extreme, the dark side of Nelli.  He could have foul moods, which he took out exclusively on Baby. 

Nelli the adventurous.  Unlike most cats, he didn’t seem to have an inbuilt satellite navigation system.  Nelli often followed people who said hello to him, but then couldn’t find his way home.  

Nelli the drama queen.  All of Nelli’s behaviours seemed exaggerated.  Full of passion.  He was an Italian cat after all.  He was our prima donna.  The world was his stage, and life was never a dress rehearsal.


When they were four years old I moved back to England, and brought the two loves of my life with me.  Nelli and Baby went from being the ‘lucky’ two ferals of the village, to being fully fledged pampered indoor mogs.  It was suddenly just the two of them.  No extended family.  

Watching their behaviour in this new situation was fascinating.  Nelli had clearly been allowed to think he was top cat in Vitiana.  Perhaps because of his disability.  In this world of two, Baby suddenly became a man.  Nelli threw his weight around and insisted he was the dominant cat.  Baby just quietly got on with being the dominant cat.  Nelli challenged him over and over and over and over.  Baby would ignore the challenges, over and over and over. 


This last year has been full of battles for our little Lord Nelli.  He has had so many health problems which we faced one at a time.  Nelli has fought and won so many battles in his life that I think I believed that he was invincible.  He used up all his lives.  The last battle was just too big. 


Would Nelli have entered our lives if he’d not lost one eye?  Would his personality still have shone through if he’d had two eyes?  Did having just one eye lead to such an enormous character?  Or did we help to nourish the character by paying him so much attention?  I’m so thankful that Nelli only had one eye, else I might never have known him.  Where ever you are now Nelli, I hope there are trees, lots of trees.

My two peas are oh so sweet

The sweetest peas you ever could meet

When I come home they love to greet

They dance around, it’s such a treat


My two peas are oh so mushy

The love they give is just so gushy

They kiss and purr until it’s slushly

And if ignored will get quite pushy


My two peas they love to play

No matter what the time of day

Unless there is a sunshine’s ray

In which they will prefer to lay


About Olivia N Masi

From art college drop-out, to office space-planner, to back-packer, to air stewardess, to brolly babe, to model agent, to wildlife conservationist. How? I've always believed in jumping at every opportunity that comes my way. This has taken me along some bizarre career paths. None of which I regret. I have been to amazing places and met fascinating people. And having worked in the motor sport industry I've sadly experienced too many beloved friends take one adrenalin step too many. I think of them always. I've hung out with pop-stars, sports personalities, and millionaires. I reached a point when nothing but VIP would do. And then something happened. My pops passed away and I felt the need to reconnect with my Italian side. Whilst in Italy, I learnt to be resourceful, to recycle everything, to listen to the valley, to grow my own veg, to catch and tame feral cats, and to follow my heart. My heart led me to a desire to save this beautiful Earth, and all the wonderful life upon it. And so I read, and then I studied with the Open University. I suddenly found myself accepted on a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, having left school with pitiful qualifications. So here I am. A qualified Wildlife Conservationist. A scientist I suppose. I love nothing more than to listen to birdsong, and watch, learn and photograph wildlife. So here is to me getting the perfect job where I can contribute to saving one of Earth's beautiful species. Do I miss the glamour of the old life? The VIP lifestyle? The petrol-head adrenalin? The buzz of being a successful business owner? Only occasionally. Though it seems more like the distant dreams of a previous life.
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2 Responses to A Tribute to Lord Nelli, my One-eyed Champion, my Hero

  1. Oh, no! I’m so sorry, honey. He was such a beauty. Much love to you and to your baby taking his leave of us for more auspicious watering holes. xoxo


  2. Chris Parker says:

    Hello Dini. Thanks for your email. I’m so so sorry to hear about Nelli. He was such a little character and as you know I was very fond of him. I remember him often popping into my little blue door house, usually into the kitchen. I hope you are well and happy and life is treating you kindly. Please give my regards to your Mum. Love Chris x


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