It seems years since Miss Manners was invited to a kettledrum. Why do you suppose that is?

It is not that Miss Manners used to hang around with the boys in the band and reformed, or fell out with them. The kettledrum was a late Victorian form of daytime entertainment that seems to have passed out of fashion.

In one way, it is probably just as well. The instrument for which this social event was named was, indeed, present (in miniature) so that a lady in funny dress could bang on it at odd intervals, probably just when Miss Manners was in the middle of a delicate witticism. A kettledrum was not a soothing way for those who had had too much fun the night before to pass the afternoon.

But Miss Manners sees a need now for more forms of informal daylight socializing. Too many people have overbooked their nights, feel odd about going around unpaired in the evening, or are reluctant to leave their children during their rare off-hours. Easily put-together events, at which people need not dress up and the ages can be mixed -- with perhaps a separate area for young children, so the adults can talk and still watch them play -- would be useful.

There are, of course, brunches and luncheons, but these require more work from the hosts and correspondingly more organized responses from the guests. Anyone who is serving a meal needs to know exactly who will be there and when, contrary to the fraudulent assurances of rebellious guests that "nobody cares about that anymore."

The kettledrum was invented to occupy a place between the simple afternoon call, at which tea was served to whoever showed up, and the elaborate afternoon reception.

(It is a great concession for Miss Manners to keep sticking the word "afternoon" in there. Actually, all daytime events were properly referred to as "morning" ones, regardless of time -- morning calls, for example, always took place in the afternoon. "Morning" simply meant any time before evening; any party that wasn't a "soiree" was a "matinee." The word, from the French for morning, survives in America to designate an afternoon theatrical performance. Don't ever say Miss Manners never taught you anything.)

As in-person calls were replaced by telephone calls, and receptions by cocktail parties and buffet suppers, the tea party got more formal and more infrequent, and the even more formal reception was left for weddings and other ceremonial occasions.

That's where the kettledrum should now come in. It was invented in India among English officers and their wives who didn't have their good china and silver with them. In the spirit of camp life, the drumhead was used as a table.

Refreshments and dress were kept simple, practical rather than dainty. Guests dropped in for a half-hour or more. If there was any entertainment other than conversation, it was more likely to be amateur music from the guests than a professional performer.

Miss Manners is not crazy to hear that drum being banged on again, and in no way wants to discourage a revival she has happily noticed of the tea party requiring lace tablecloths and hats. She only wishes to point out that the idea of an un-fancy afternoon gathering at which alcohol has a very minor role would be particularly useful now.

And if you don't like the kettledrum, she has another suggestion for you from her vast knowledge of obsolete social forms:

The chocolataire. A chocolataire is similar to a tea party, except that everything is loaded with chocolate -- hot chocolate is the drink offered in winter and chocolate lemonade in summer, and the food consists of chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate wafers, chocolate bonbons, chocolate pastries and chocolate candies.

Oh, you like that one a little better than the drums, do you? Miss Manners has just noticed that the condescending facial expressions of those who thought that quaint old forms were not for them have changed. Please use your tea napkins to wipe your mouths.

I am a concerned college student who needs your help. One of the housekeeping staff is male. Therefore, before he enters the women's restroom to clean it, he knocks three times and announces, "Housekeeping." If I am inside, what is the appropriate reply?

"I'll be out in a minute." This is an all-purpose bathroom statement that may be made in response to any knock and any announcement. No one has ever yet defined the length of time meant by the use of "a minute" in this context.

My stepfather made my ex-husband and me a very big and expensive grandfather clock for our first wedding anniversary. We were divorced shortly after that, and my ex-husband has the clock.

Do you think I should have it, since it was my stepfather who made it? I really think my ex would break it before he'd let me have it.

One of the niceties of divorce etiquette is that each person should be able to retain articles of sentimental value from his or her side of the family. Etiquette does not, however, tell us how to get such items from people who would rather break them, perhaps over our heads. Under the circumstances, perhaps you should apply to someone rougher than Miss Manners for that aspect of the question.