Tales of the City: My castaway today is Desert Island Discs

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Tomorrow, Desert Island Discs celebrates its 60th birthday with a concert at the Festival Hall, attended by 100-odd castaways and featuring the most-often-requested melodies. The programme is now so venerable, so frightfully, nobly Establishment, that it's about time somebody gave it a public tribute, some mark of national respect.

Tomorrow, Desert Island Discs celebrates its 60th birthday with a concert at the Festival Hall, attended by 100-odd castaways and featuring the most-often-requested melodies. The programme is now so venerable, so frightfully, nobly Establishment, that it's about time somebody gave it a public tribute, some mark of national respect.

I know – let's invite it to appear on Desert Island Discs...

Sue Lawley: "My castaway today is a famous radio show that every serious public figure has courted, or at least dreamt of spending the day with. It was born in 1942, the only brainchild of a single parent called Roy Plomley. So tell me, do you remember much about those days?"

DIDiscs: "I was born in the middle of the night. Roy was in bed when he had this crackpot idea, he got up, scribbled it down on a sheet of paper, then went back to sleep. Nobody thought I'd last longer than eight weeks. But with careful nurturing, and constant injections of famous names..."

Sue L: "I gather you thought Roy was a bit of a prat..."

DID: "You know how it is when you're young. He was always saying 'discs' instead of 'records', as if he'd never heard of vinyl. So deadbeat. And saying things like, 'Could you fashion a shelter?' in that ridiculous scoutmaster voice."

Sue L: "He treated all his guests equally, I suppose, did he?"

DID: "Are you kidding? He'd take the men castaways to the Garrick for a four-course meal and club claret and port. The lady castaways had to make do with the Stockpot in Panton Street, the cheapest spag-bol joint in London."

Sue L: "He was the most charming, imperturbable man, surely?"

DID: "Charming but perturbable. He never recovered from having Otto Preminger yell at him, 'Of course I couldn't fashion a shelter. Could you fashion a shelter, you old fool, with your bald head? How can you ask me this?'"

Sue L: "So you were quite relieved when he was replaced by Michael Parkinson?"

DID: "God no. Parky was hopeless. He asked male fashion designers if they thought theirs was a proper profession for a real man. He always sounded as if he was falling asleep or filling in a crossword. And he used to say, 'Imagine a big wave comes and washes away seven of your eight records – which will be left?' To which the only answer was, of course, 'That depends on the wave, you twit.'"

Sue L: "And now you're 60 and you've been with your third spouse for 14 years. Do you get on with her okay?"

DID: "Yeah, except when she used to try too hard to be tough. Like when she tried to get Gordon Brown to admit to being a) blind, b) mainly blind, c) taciturn and d) gay. But she's a nice girl and she does a good job of sounding terribly interested in everyone's, you know, gripping scientific breakthroughs."

Sue L: " Desert Island Discs, thank you very much indeed for..."

DID: "I wish you wouldn't say that every damn week. It's always got on my wick."

Sue L: "Temper, temper..."

I'll have a burger and a disclaimer, please

London restaurants are starting to run with blood and reek with the smell of well-hung red meat. The atmosphere in the new wave of steakhouses is pungent with grilling, charring, searing and burning, like a Zanu-PF interrogation centre. Diners at Notting Grill, Smiths of Smithfield, the Gaucho Grill chain and a dozen other steakeries are behaving like shameless carnivores, devouring rare steaks with slavering fangs like their Iron Age ancestors, gnashing at 9oz Aberdeen Angus rumps with maddened, staring eyes, like Goya's charming picture of Saturn eating his children...

But don't assume it's all plain sailing in carnivore land. I hear that patrons of some restaurants are being asked to sign a form, if they want their meat rare or medium rare. No really, it's true. If you go to Planet Hollywood, or Shoeless Joe's, the sports bar, or the All Bar One winebar-grill chain, and order a burger lightly cooked, you won't be served it unless you've put your name to a disclaimer that says you have given up your right to legal redress, should anything happen to you. The form at Planet Hollywood reads: "I would like my burger to be cooked to medium rare and I acknowledge that Planet Hollywood does not wish to do this but it is my personal request and I am aware of the dangers of contracting E coli."

Can you think of anything more off-putting to the digestion (apart from a rare burger, of course) than this creepy document? The ruling doesn't apply in Planet Hollywood's American incarnation. It originates in Brussels, where an EU directive says there's a risk of salmonella in eating medium-rare beef. But if Brussels is going to interfere, why stop with meat? Perhaps it offers patrons other disclaimer forms – one saying: "I wish to try the kidneys in red wine. I acknowledge that this restaurant does not wish me to eat this because, the way they make it, it's absolutely disgusting and smells of pee, but I promise not to complain if I become unwell". And perhaps another saying: "I would like to order a third bottle of Château Musar, and I acknowledge that the management does not want me to drink it, but cannot afford to stop me. I am aware of the dangers of getting completely off my face and lying in a pool of vomit singing a little song about pixies..."

A Mars a day...is getting smaller

The people who make the Mars Bar have decided it's no longer sellable as a therapeutic aid to "work, rest and play" and have decided to flog it under the egregiously smutty new rubric of "Pleasure you can't measure". In fact you can measure the chocolate-caramel bar, if you're kinky about rulers and scales, and you'll find that although it's the same length, it's thinner, it's 2.5g smaller, and it costs the same. This might seem a bit of a cheek, but we have Mars's inspired brand manager, Nick Brock, on hand to explain. "In response to our research, it seemed that people wanted an increased feeling of lightness," he told the BBC's Today. An increase of lightness, eh? Not a decrease in heaviness, then? "It seems that people wanted more of less" – isn't that a brilliant, neo-Beckettian construction?

You could perform wonders in public life if you applied the same silken words. You could explain to your grateful employees that you were planning to give them "a slightly increased feeling of having fewer possessions" by cutting pay. Football commentators could cheer up England fans by pointing out that, although their team hadn't actually scored, the fans had been given "a slightly increased feeling of not having been scored against". It takes the concept of "positive thinking" into weird new regions, where having less is having more, and the pleasure in eating a chocolate bar evades all the calibrations of science and goes off into infinity. Mars – the first Zen snack.

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