OK, let’s talk about what we get up to outside the office — the stuff that boosts our body, mind and spirit. From “digital detox” festivals in the sun to women’s white collar boxing, here’s some ideas for going off grid


Ladies who punch

Words: Charlotte Vowden
Illustrations: Damien Weighill

To become a white-collar boxer requires determination, dedication and no fear of getting hit in the face. Meet the TOG community manager who is getting into the ring

The second you let your guard slip, you get punished. The rule applies to any boxer who steps into the ring. And the sisterhood of female fighters proving their worth in the world of white-collar boxing is no different.

“I threw the first punch. I wanted to be the aggressor,” says self-confessed girly girl turned white-collar boxer Amnita Grewal, 28, a community manager for The Office Group. “It’s not just an excuse to hit someone, though: the focus is on technique. I grew up with brothers and it was a lot rougher play-fighting with them!”

What started on Wall Street as entertainment for city boys and white-collar professionals during the late 1990s is now one of the fastest-growing sports among females in the UK — insurance policies taken out by women who white-collar box soared by 700% in the first six months of 2016, according to SportsCover Direct.

In the early days, men threw all the punches while women were restricted to holding up the cards between rounds. Today, the scene is very different. Women support, participate and coach, with celebrities like Millie Mackintosh and Ellie Goulding sharing gloves-on snapshots on social media.

For Grewal, it was a throwaway comment made at the gym that led her into the ring and to victory. “I jokingly said I wanted to get involved in a charity boxing event. I couldn’t believe I had the balls to get in the ring, let alone win!”

Grewal embarked on a demanding 11-week training schedule. To begin with, she and her fisty colleagues only had the nerve to punch each other in the shoulders. “When we did hit each other in the face, we’d apologise. Sorry, sorry! Then all of a sudden, there was this switch. She’s not my friend, she’s my opponent. I remember the first time I got hit in the face and my mouth bled,” says Grewal. “In that moment, you don’t feel the pain.”

Former professional MMA fighter Charlie Enstone-Watts got Grewal in shape. Enstone-Watts is also a trainer at Work It, which runs fitness studios in Henry Wood House and Albert House.

“As long as they are fit and able, anyone can step in the ring,” he says. “Many people who sit behind a desk all day have a lot of pent-up aggression; however, it needs to be controlled in a fight.”

Over 300 people turned out to see Grewal and 17 other boxers compete at The Battle of Camden. Organised by TOG, the night raised over £6,000 for The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (, which supports soldiers and their families.

But whatever happens in the ring, girls will be girls. Changing-room talk turned to jovial chats about what to wear and where to go for dinner. “We worked hard, so we got really close, says Grewal. I even got the giggles during the stare down at the weigh-in.” Top tip? Practice your game face.

Alternative big bang workouts

Bitch Boxing

Learn how to dispatch your opponent with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it skills. Classes are led by the second woman in the UK to acquire a professional boxing license: Cathy “The Bitch” Brown. She’ll get your fitness levels to peak point so you can duck and recover with speed.

Soho; free for members


Free of charge, so what’s the catch? You have to run a gauntlet of stylish sports gear to get to the studio where you’ll be getting your sweat on. Banish your debit card before you arrive to be on the safe side, and steel yourself for an hour of butt-kicking that involves skipping, boxing drills and ab workouts.

Various stores; free of charge; booking essential, one week in advance


Hit them with the left, then with the right, chin down, eyes up, attack, defend, breathe in, breathe out, downward dog. It’s not the usual learning-to-box combo, but it works. Fusing yoga and boxing, this class is divided into two parts and kept to a maximum of 14, with two instructors who will be current/retired fighters or have been yoga teachers for over three years.

Yogabox will be part of Work It this autumn. Also at Bermondsey Square Hotel, London Bridge; Open to guests and non-guests, £20 for two classes introductory offer is available, then it’s £18 per class


The great digital escape

OK, so you might not need to go quite as far as the Gobi desert to switch o , but we all need a screen break once in a while. Here’s some inspiration

Your thumb aches and a drowsy numbness pains your senses. Your eyes have retreated into their sockets. You have the attention span of a gnat. And still you’re clicking, scrolling, swiping…

If that’s you, it’s entirely possible that you’re meeting the typical UK adult routine: spending more than eight hours on a screen every day.

We’ve doubled our screen time in the last decade, says Ofcom, and the more we’re online, the more we seem to compulsively turn screenwards. All those tech blessings of a decade ago — you can stay in touch, watch a lm wherever, keep up with emails whenever — have turned into an always-on hell.

Which is why so many of us want to do a “digital detox” — and the travel industry has responded with
a plethora of unplugged breaks. In some, you check all your gizmos at the gate and go cold turkey. Others gently dissuade you away from your smartphone with a range of life- enhancing options (after all, given the choice between massage or Twitter, it should be no contest). And some just take you to the wilderness: to show you the wonders beyond YouTube.

But they all have the same idea: disconnect to reconnect. A break from tech is not a denial, but a renewal. It is highly likely to reduce your stress. It will offer the chance to gaze at a horizon, and to review your own horizons.

Importantly, it’s good for your work. It helps creativity and problem- solving. So put down that smartphone. Stop pretending to be indispensable. And for heaven’s sake, eat your dinner, don’t Instagram it. Take back your life from tech and you’ll feel better.


The Clinical Detox

There’s a methodical end of the digital detox market. Take the Italian spa retreat of Ti Sana: a villa in an 18th- century courtyard building near Milan. You’ll nd all the panoply of a good “wellness” holiday with cleansing from the inside out — raw foods, juices, colonics, and jogging along the river Adda — but it also boasts a digital detox suite. Here, you have to switch o your phone and get to grips with your gripes, be they insomnia or anxiety. You can try everything from Nordic walking to Qi-Gong; and don’t forget the “educational wellness seminars” which will send you home with mind and skin cleansed.

From £2,007 pp for seven nights via

The Frinton Fall-Out

Essex might not seem the kind of place where you’d nd a digital detox. But as the county with the longest coastline in the UK, and close to London, it has much to o er the solace-seeker. The four-star Lifehouse Spa and Hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken has all the panoply of a spa from manicures to yoga to several varieties of massage. And it has a detox programme that encourages you to leave your tech alone. So do what you must in one of its detox rooms, then stroll in the 12-acre garden, happy that you’re a world away

(if a mere 80-odd miles) from London’s Silicon Roundabout, probably the most digital- obsessed zone in the land. Plus, you’ll get a brat detox as the minimum age of guests is 16.

From around £590pp (midweek, two sharing) for three-night serious detox,

Desert glamping

There’s an actual festival devoted to digital detoxing and it’s called… Restival. See what they did there? Anyway, Restival moves around the world, spreading tech-free calm. It happens in Arizona, Sweden and this November is in the Moroccan part of the Sahara desert, where a ve-day retreat themed on digital disconnection will reconnect you with your navel. But you’ll still have loads to do without your iThings, as there’s yoga, gong baths, meditation, storytelling and art. You’ll hang out with Berbers, look at real stars in inky skies, eat dates — hey, you may even get a date. You’ll glamp in white tents. Drink Moroccan mint tea… If, after that, you’re ready for a bit of shopping and mayhem, there’s always Marrakesh.

From about £1,200 Eco-Lux camping, for four sharing (excluding flights);

The Far Horizon

There’s nothing like going completely into the wilderness to remind you of the vastness of the planet, the smallness of us, and all that jazz. So if you go on a life-changing hike to say, the great Gobi desert in southern Mongolia, you’ll nd one of the last proper wildernesses on earth with all kinds of awe-inspiring terrain from sand dunes to ice formations, and extraordinary nomadic people who live in the local variation of the yurt, the “ger”. On an expedition like this, you’ll bag yourself the chance to connect with the very essence of your being.

£2,350pp for 15 days (excluding flights);


The permanent pop-up

When foodie pop-ups are flavour of the month, the next step is a fixed space. But once they settle down, will we go back for second helpings?

All our favourite street-food vendors and pop-ups are vanishing. It’s not because the food tastes terrible or that people are nally over the street-food phenomenon. But stalls are being dismantled and short-term leases terminated. What’s going on?

It’s all down to their success, which brings the temptation to commit. The founders of Mussel Men, Som Saa, Bao and co have secured their own permanent restaurants. And this trend is unlikely to be a ash in the pan: pop-ups contribute £2.3bn to the UK economy, employ 26,000 people and the sector grew by 12.3% last year, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Street-food markets — like Dinerama in Shoreditch or KERB in King’s Cross — are still places where the chefs of tomorrow can make their name. “It’s fun moving around when you have a stall,” says Shing Tat Chung of Bao. Bao began selling steamed Taiwanese buns three years ago at a b ou stall at Netil Market, northeast London. They opened their rst restaurant on Soho’s Lexington Street in April last year. “There are advantages to being in a permanent space,” Chung says. “You aren’t dependent on the weather; there’s somewhere you can cook and prepare food when you want.” Bao recently opened a second restaurant on Windmill Street in Fitzrovia.

Permanence can be good news for the customer: your favourite street food isn’t going anywhere. “Customers have got it great,” says Robin Dunlop, the owner of Mussel Men, a pop-up in Dalston that turned permanent in 2013. “But it can be a struggle to get the hype for a restaurant week in, week out.”

That’s why even successful pop-ups can de ate when they put down roots. Holly Redman opened Pure Taste — the UK’s rst gluten-free and paleo restaurant — in Notting Hill at the end of 2014. It began as a monthly pop-up in Sussex and she crowd-funded more than £30,000 on Kickstarter. But she “couldn’t make it work nancially”, she rues. Pure Taste closed in July 2015 and Redman declared insolvency.

But stories like hers are unlikely to turn the tide, as more and more pop- ups seek a space of their own. There is a whole city of hungry workers — us — to compete for.


Brain food

Eat yourself smarter

If you’ve ever made the mistake of being too liberal with wasabi paste, you’ll know it can deliver a fiery kick.

But the hot chemical compound found in fresh wasabia japonica, a knobbly pale-green root, can deliver a brain boost too. A study at Japan’s Nagoya University suggests that regularly eating wasabi promotes the reproduction of brain cells and improves our memory and ability to learn (though you may also learn that excessive consumption can cause diarrhoea). To get more wasabi into your diet, buy ready-to-use rhizomes, which are the edible stems, online, or order a semi-developed plant (£7.50 each) to cultivate yourself — the leaves and stems can also be eaten. Gram for gram, wasabi is the world’s most expensive vegetable, and Europe’s only wasabi farms are in Hampshire and Dorset.

To prepare it, wash the root and peel it, then grate in a circular motion. Recipes for cooked or boiled rhizome are rare. Try it freshly grated with steak or seafood or perhaps ice cream. For a quick boost, pick up a snack: you can buy wasabi popcorn, crisps and even chocolate.