Ponsonby Quincannon Braithwaite, believe it or don’t, is based on a real person. The scion of a family of Boston’s old upper crust (and when we say “old”, we’re talking Indians and wooden boats with no…facilities), he lived quietly in a small Cambridge house with a picket fence and two cats named Ginger and Fred. He didn’t grow mushrooms behind his penny loafers but almost everything else is true.

He would have been the happiest person I’ve ever known or would ever be likely to know were it not for one thing: his family.

There are some families who are content to show their disappointment in other members by clucking their tongues, shaking their heads, and making dire predictions about those other members’ eventual fates as burger flippers and dog walkers. Ponsie’s family (not his real name, of course, but his real name is almost as silly) did not belong to this group. They were the kind of tribe who believed that one action was worth a thousand clucks, and they were forever hounding him to get a job, a degree, a hobby, a purpose in life.

At least once a week some member of the tribe would be assigned the challenging task of visiting Ponsie with an eye toward making him do something. They would arrive with fire in their bellies and the fervor of a battery of Knights Templar the moment before facing the Saracens on the plains of Jerusalem – if Jerusalem has plains – to win or lose it all for King, Country, and the Pope who was at that moment rustling cattle from their farms while they were gone.

They would come like Crusaders, armed and primed, but they would leave like bewildered drunks who had run into a lamp post and lost all track of of their motor reflexes. “What just hit me?” would about express the looks of dazed confusion and frozen wonder, for Ponsie’s formidable barricades were no more stormable than Arthur’s Camelot.

Not for the same reason, of course. His house had no moat and there weren’t any archers shooting flights of fire-arrows from the upstairs bathroom window. Ponsie’s defenses were mental and psychological. Asked bluntly and with some considerable force what he intended to do with his life, he would answer, “Callahan’s mother ironed his Armani suit yesterday. Now he can’t stop drinking Fresca.” Asked who the hell Callahan was, he would reply, “Callahan who?”

Ponsie may not have had sheer 30-ft stone walls that had to be scaled with hiking boots and a dull ax or a flow of boiling oil that had to be dodged as it tumbled from the cauldron on his porch roof, but he did have non-sequitors and, like a great General with a so-so army, he made them do.

It wasn’t any fun for him but those of us who knew him were of the firm opinion that a day with Robin Williams might be all very well, but for pure entertainment value there was nothing to beat a front row seat in Ponsie’s living room when a relative came to call. A barrel of monkeys? Pshaw. Kid stuff.

The only member of Ponsie’s extended comedy routine who was genuinely scary was his mother, Alexandra. Known to her intimates as “Dabber”, Alexandra was, when I saw her, less a mother than a human Bradley tank with twin machine guns mounted on the turret. A savvy and successful businesswoman, Dabber was with Ponsie a force of corporate nature in the manner of an inflexible CEO dressing down a subordinate who had been observed wearing sneakers to the annual stockholders’ meeting. Sneakers with holes in the toes.

“Aunt Harriet” is more or less based on her, though to be fair I must admit I have taken a number of…liberties…with both her speech and her appearance. She’s much nicer than Dabber, for one thing, especially in the morning. For another, I never saw her in a bathrobe.

The only way Ponsie could keep Dabber off his back was to do a “family chore” every once in a while with the understanding that once it was done, she had to leave him alone for a period of time to be negotiated in good faith by all parties. Some of the simpler chores – cleaning out the massive whiskey cache his uncle had hidden in the barn of their summer “cottage” on the Vineyard, for example, were only worth two weeks. On the other hand, the odious chore of buying off his cousin’s unacceptable waitress-girlfriend and the, um, letters he wrote her so he could marry a niece of the Vanderbilts got Ponsie a full 6 months of peace and meditation.

The Knockers Trophy escapade is loosely based (so loosely its pants are falling down) on one of these chores in which I happened to play a small role owing to my skill with saddles and the fact that I owned a van big enough to get the horse in. If anything, the Trophy caper makes more sense.

As for Caroline…. Well, you can draw your own conclusions.

MICK ARRAN