As patrons of the high-altitude Tan Hill Inn know very well, hanging around in pubs at the heart of the festive season can be a chancy business. As well as the risk of being snowed in (or the opportunity, depending on what else you've got planned), spending the Christmas holidays largely in pubs can lead to accusations that you should really have something better to do with your time. That is, of course, preposterous, because there are plenty of grounds for arguing that time spent in a good pub is time spent best of all, besides which the idea of spending any time at all with your family might for very good reasons give you the shakes.
But complicated holiday opening hours, the absence of regular companions and the prospect of disapproval do keep plenty of pub connoisseurs away from their favoured hang-outs over the festive break and even beyond. But that doesn't mean they abandon civilised living entirely. An increasing number of beer aficionadoes are enriching their understanding of beer at such downtimes by taking their enthusiasm home and brewing their own, with often-impressive results.
With money tight, the post-festivity hiatus upon us and a desperate need to keep warm, there's no better time to get up close to a seething boiler and learn to know your Fuggles from your Bramling Cross. It's not as scary as it sounds. It's cheap, requires little equipment, at least at first, and there's plenty of good advice around, not least on the forum at Jim's Beer Kit, recommended by those who know as the oracle for both learned veterans and those who just wouldn't mind having a stab. Recession-busting, weather-beating and educational - there ought to be a grant for it.