Q: I read that Dylan Thomas asked his mother to remove the tops of his soft-boiled eggs even when he was an adult.

This made me realize, somewhat to my shock, that I do not in fact know how to eat soft-boiled eggs correctly -- that is, when they are perched in an egg cup.

I daren't risk appalling you with the truth about how I do eat them, using a sharp rap of my knife to crack the shell in half, prizing the halves apart, letting the gooey yolk drip into a bowl, scooping out the white with the knife blade and then mushing everything together with torn-up pieces of lavishly buttered toast and, of course, salt and pepper. This method produces the best-tasting soft-boiled egg, but that is, alas, not the point of my inquiry. The spectacle is, I believe, too revolting for public viewing, and there have been occasions in my life on which I have wanted to eat a soft-boiled egg in public.

Does one use the egg spoon to crack off the top of the egg, or a knife? What does one do with the egg-white that clings to the beanie one has lifted off the egg shell? Does one have to salt and pepper periodically, as one descends toward the bottom of the shell, or is it permissible to smush and swirl yolk and white together with the spices before beginning one's repast?

My mother lives 1,200 miles from me, and so, unlike the poet, I am not able to ask her to remove the tops of my eggs.

Appalled? It is inconceivable to Miss Manners that a civilized gentleman would behave in the fashion you describe toward a soft and defenseless egg. She trembles for your family and your tie.

A: That you employ a correct weapon does not excuse you. It may be correct to kill a partridge with a gun, but not by braining it with the butt.

Aim the knife above the yolk, silly. No wonder your mother lives 1,200 miles away. She must be exhausted.

One may also use an egg spoon, rapping smartly on the top until it shatters into pieces that may be picked off delicately with the fingers. There are also special egg guillotines for the purpose, decorated with chicken motifs, which do not bear philosophical examination but work very well.

In any case, the small amount of white left in the top is eaten with the egg spoon.

We do not smush and swirl (unless we are eating fudge whirl ice cream alone at home with the shades down).

Yes, you must season your egg as you go. If not for choruses of "Please pass the salt," there would be no conversation at all at the civilized breakfast table.

Q: I received the disturbing news from a friend that one of our mutual and close friends has been given six months to live, because of an inoperable brain tumor.

I would like to write my friend a letter, to tell her how much I appreciate her and to thank her for all her kind deeds. Is this a proper thing to do, considering the circumstances? How would I go about starting the letter and keeping it tactful?

This person means a great deal to me and I was terribly shocked to hear the news.

A: Miss Manners appreciates your sentiments and believes that telling a friend how much she means to you is always proper.

But she warns you that the first thing you should appreciate about your friend is that she is still alive. Any obituary-like tone in your letter -- summing up the memories as if everything is over -- is bound to depress her. Write to her as someone who is ill, going on to tell her how much you care for her, as if that were something long overdue, as indeed it probably is. It is not for you to conclude, much less to inform her, that she is dying.