"It just restores your faith in the chaos theory," said Terry Wogan, half-way through the voting sequence of the Eurovision Song Contest. He was referring to some anomalous dispensation of points by the French, but the truth is that this annual fixture isn't chaotic at all in a scientific sense. It operates with a sublime Newtonian predictability, in which even the eccentric movements obey some hidden law. Every year Cyprus will give Greece top marks and Greece will cordially hand them back again (a diplomatic arrangement echoed this year by a Scandinavian concordat that included Estonia). Every year the local speakerines will appear in a little inset screen backed by a medieval castle (those countries in which a recent civil war hasn't destroyed the principal landmarks) or a prestige civil engineering project (those countries that haven't spent half the public sector budget on hosting the Eurovision Song Contest). Every year there will be raucous noises as the British presenters complete the bits in French - the notion that we should speak a foreign language at all having lost none of its rich comic appeal, despite years of EC membership.

Every year, too, there will be a ghostly geo-political presence at the feast - the musical superpower of the United States, not represented officially but detectable in virtually every song, even those that attempt to disguise their transatlantic banality (sorry, that should read "broad popular appeal") with the gummed-on moustache of an electric bouzouki or a pan-pipe backing. The transatlantic yearning is particularly transparent in the wannabe nations. I happen to know that one of Bulgaria's top variety programmes is a show called How Can We Reach Them - the "them" in question being given away by shots of the Stars and Stripes and the Statue of Liberty. Croatia's entry, which began the evening, displayed a similarly touching candour about its influences. It looked like a Stars In Their Eyes imitation of Madonna, with the singer garbed in a black Arabic cloak.

The Madonna effect - you can wear anything you want as long as it is black - continued for another four songs before the Swiss broke the run with a sheer red number. "That dress sort of promised more than it delivered, didn't it?" observed Terry Wogan, though the truth was that a nimble bit of gallery-work had been necessary to prevent the screen from revealing as much as the dress did. If the Swiss team had been hoping to titillate a few more votes out of the international audience they had reckoned without the diplomatic angle - hundreds of years of unbroken neutrality doesn't forge those bonds of shared suffering on which Eurovision success depends. Not a single foreign point entered the sovereign territory of the Swiss scoreboard.

In the arena itself the big talking-point must have been Ulrika's decision to support the British furniture industry with an upholstery theme; she first appeared stitched into a World of Leather outfit in light tan, then changed into more formal attire for the voting - a sheath dress in grey underfelt that made her look like a sofa which was having its soft covers dry-cleaned. For some reason she had been made up to look like Anthea Turner, but she acquitted herself well with the foreign greetings and managed a passable imitation of sincerity when saying how fabulous the entr'acte had been - a bizarre orchestration of "Jupiter" intended to showcase Britain's rich multicultural traditions. I'm not convinced that the Bhangra version of Riverdance is going to go global, but it was good to see that Britain's sizeable Zulu community had not been left out. In the end it was an extremely tight race - with Malta, Britain, The Netherlands and Israel jockeying for lead - and the last vote cast was the deciding one, from a country that had modelled itself not on Madonna but on Prince. Obeying the Balkan protocol, the Country Formerly Known as the Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia gave top marks to Croatia - which meant that Israel's transsexual entry triumphed ("she wasn't even wearing a polo neck" said Terry, in the only allusion made to the performer's unusual gender history). Next year in Jerusalem.