From across the pond at this time of year, England seems as devoid of life as if a neutron bomb had hit. Phones ring unattended in empty offices; answering machines pick up calls to houses that are deserted - or perhaps inhabited by people asleep for a week in front of the television. The whole place feels as if it is hibernating, wrapped in one of those shock blankets made of the silvery Mylar in which Madonna's sex book was packaged.

In New York, where Mylar was the gift wrap of choice this year, the city crackles with Clintomania, shopping and religious visions; the three are not always unrelated. 'So what are you doing for new year's eve?' people have been asking each other too casually all week. To which the only acceptable answer was: 'Oh, just heading down to South Carolina . . . you know . . ]'

Anyone who matters in New York is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to see in the new year with Bill and Hillary Clinton at what is known as the Renaissance Weekend. Renaissance, which the Clintons have been attending for years, is a kind of baby boomer talkfest where Supreme Court Justices and political cartoonists get back in touch with their emotions on such issues as the economy, vasectomy and 'Brides-to-be, Changing Your Name?'

It began in 1981 with 50 like-minded families getting together at the new year for, as someone put it, 'a blend of rejuvenation and ego reinforcement'. With Clinton as President-elect, the weekend has become a hot ticket for power-tripping 'policy wonks' whose idea of fun is masticating health-care issues at dinner. This year 515 families are in attendance at this overaged Age of Aquarius court; a lot more angled for an invite.

Among media folk more than any others, New Yorkers shamelessly claim they shared a Dr Pepper with Bill in his boyhood Arkansas; these people have rarely been south of New Jersey. And without any of the legendary national irony, media fortysomethings of British origin - with whom the New York-Washington corridor is solid - claim they were not only at Oxford with Bill but at the same college, that they dated him, in fact, or supplied the dope for that cigarette he did not inhale.

Still, Clintomania has its benefits: it is apparently responsible for a bumper shopping season. The prospect of Bill Clinton in the White House, it seems, has made New Yorkers deeply desirous of shopping. Early on 26 December the stores were open; in the suburban malls the 'mall rats' raced up and down escalators looking for bargains; street vendors were out with a fresh assortment of Grunge hats, Bakelite jewellery, Martini shakers, Barbie Ferraris - probably off the back of some lorry - and, the result of the Disney version of Aladdin, coining it at movie houses with genie boxer shorts.

REMEMBER Amy Fisher, the 16-year-old Long Island Lolita who shot her boyfriend's wife in May? Amy is doing time in prison, but the other night the first of three (]) versions of her story being shown this week was on television. Amy Fisher: My Story was sold by her lawyers to help raise bail.

In this 'docudrama', Amy Fisher is the Jewish-American Princess Diana of the Long Island malls; this is Material Girl meets the Godfather with dialogue that makes Di and Squidgy sound like David Mamet. The film starts as, from her lonely jail cell, Amy recounts her ordeal into a tape recorder in a Long Island accent that gives new meaning to the glottal stop. 'I just doan unnerstan' how it all began,' she begins.

The cinematic action, as she describes it, all begins when Amy, a troubled suburban teenager, is taken by her dad to Joey Buttafuoco's body shop to get her car repaired. Joey is a married man. From this little beginning, mighty passions grow. Of Joey, Amy tells her friend: 'He loves me. We have great sex. And he fixes my car.'

Things escalate: Amy gets her hair dyed pink. Then she wants Joey to paint her name, spelt 'Aimee', on her car in hot pink.

Joey: 'How hot?'

Amy: 'How hot have you got?'

Joey: 'How hot can you


And when Amy goes to work for an 'escort' service, she asks Joey if he minds. He replies philosophically: 'You have sex witcha body, you make love witcha mind.'

Does the television movie mirror the facts of the case of the Long Island Lolita? Well, as the producer has said: 'Our movie is incredibly informed by her reality, but that doesn't make it necessarily truer than anyone else's version - although we believe her version to be pretty accurate.'