It was a querulous pilgrimage that went to Camden Parkway last week. Would the diva let us down? Would the chanteuse fatale of a million bedroom walls still leave us drenched in teenage lust? Was it true she was bald? (Bloody hell - but that's heroin for you.) Were the lips, the cheekbones, the matchless eyes, the platinum cloud, the slender legs still in working order? In short, was the return of Debbie Harry going to to be a terrible let-down?

For the very young I should explain that Ms Harry was, for certain impressionable 23-year-olds in 1977, the biggest turn-on ever. She was Theda Bara, the It Girl, Harlow, Monroe, Jean Shrimpton, Diana Rigg and the young lady in the Cadbury's Flake advert rolled into one. When we first clapped eyes on her, she was on Top of the Pops intoning "Denis", a foolish doo-be- doo love song, with a throwaway disdain and we instantly fell in love.

Those of us who kept faith with the divine Debs credit her with originating almost everything that happened, culture-wise, since those days. She invented rap (with the song "Rapture"), she invented pogo-ing, she was responsible for the Essex-girl look (scuffed white slingbacks), she was Madonna before Madonna ... even her band, in their monochrome whistles, anticipated the Reservoir Dogs look by a decade. And now?

Imagine, if you will, the noise of 300 male chins hitting the floor of the Jazz Cafe, as a stocky figure in an Aunt Maud skirt and sensible oatmeal sweater took the stage. The hair was a mane of marmalade waves, the face that launched a thousand LP sleeves as round as a harvest moon. During extended improvisations by the Jazz Passengers, she had a little sit-down. If someone had brought her a reviving cup of tea and a digestive biscuit, I would not have been surprised.

The only Blondie song she did was "One Way or Another", with its irresistibly bouncy hook. I would not say she ruined it, just turned it into a jazz- funk pudding. She waved her arms around a bit and snarled and ogled the vibraphonist, but it just wasn't the same.

At half-time, I went to the gents. There were three chaps peeing and three waiting, but every one of us was doing the same thing. We were all mouthing the original version of "One Way or Another", desperately rewinding back to the Debbie Harry we used to know. "I'm gonna find ya," we murmured in chorus at the white porcelain, "I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha ..."

Here's a tip for fans of Amy Tan, the glamorous Chinese-American novelist: don't stand too near her on station platforms. Ms Tan, whose new novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, concerns a girl called Kwan with magic powers, is herself no slouch in the magic department. In the course of a promotional tour, she discovered that she has a Uri Gellerish touch with technology. First, she put a hex on the tape-recorders of interviewing journalists; then she found that, merely by uttering the words "I think I should warn you that ..." she could abort recordings at will. Terrific stuff, though a little unhelpful on the publicity circuit. Then she and her publicity director, Karen Geary, noticed that every time the latter tried to pay for train tickets, lunches and whatnot, something would go wrong. The truth gradually dawned. One by one, the mystic Amy was wiping all Ms Geary's credit cards ...

Collaborationism is the new buzzword in Nineties London. Damien Hirst, the man who is to bisected cattle what Rembrandt was to self-portraiture, has made a film with Eddie Izzard and Pulp. Bjork sings with the Brodsky Quartet. Irvine Welsh, the Scots enfant terrible, acts in the film of his book Trainspotting.

The newest recruit to this invasionist tendency is Mike Phillips, the crime novelist, who has just been confirmed as writer-in-residence at the Royal Festival Hall. Most bearers of this cosy title content themselves with discussion groups but Phillips, a burly black Londoner, is different: he is enrolling in a course with the choreographer-in-residence, and is planning a gumshoe cacophany with Sir Harrison Birtwistle, the composer- in-residence.

At the party to launch the ebullient Phillips on his 15-month stay, wine flowed, arty radio chaps crunched peanuts and Peter Bottomley, MP, was in fine patronising form. "Ah Michael," he breathed at the author. "So you've become an insider at last ..." What could he mean? Was he under the impression that Phillips - senior lecturer in media studies at the University of Westminster, Omnibus presenter, CWA prizewinner, confidant of Dianne Abbott and Paul Boateng - had spent his time hitherto in lawless adventures on the wrong side of the tracks?

And did Bottomley not know that an amusing, barely fictionalised portrait of him and his wife appears in Phillips's first novel, Blood Rights? "When the BBC broadcast it in 1990, many people thought the wife was based on Mrs Thatcher," chuckles the genial Phillips. "But it was Virginia all along."

Scanning the Valentine pages of the Independent yesterday was a salutary experience. Even a crazed romantic such as I grew weary of the endearments from Woo-kins and Buggle-Wuggle to their inamorati. Some of the messages ("We smell of fish!") were more loving ("I'm going to smash your face with kisses") than others ("Remember the king of Prussia"). But two of them illustrated Important Things to Remember when sending Valentines.

1. Check your quotes. One chap sent his girl Hamlet's love letter to Ophelia ("Doubt that the stars are fire/ Doubt that the Sun doth move/ Doubt Truth to be a liar/ But never doubt I love") but mangled it until it read "Doubt truth to be a lire". Nothing is to be gained by dragging Italian currency into your love-notes.

2. Always type your message. A twitter-pated cove called Robert, trying to convince his ladyfriend of his sincerity, wanted his entry printed in his handwriting. "All my love for ever and a day", it should have read. But Robert's weird orthography has rendered it "All my hose ...". Never mind, Robert. Lots of girls were offered far worse things yesterday than a lifetime's supply of your stockings.

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