In the London wilderness

How an episode of the worst in London’s transport gave me a traditional Jewish Passover experience.

On Monday my daughter and I were invited for to the first Passover Night at friends who live near Crofton Park, which for us requires a journey from the North of London to the South.

I have everything checked and planned. Take the 17.22 Thameslink on Platform A at St. Pancras, ride 8 stops arrive at Crofton Park at 17.53. I do not do trips with my daughter on trains frequent, all I get to experience with her is at best the  Overground system, which is owned by TfL. So to my great surprise, I am held at the ticket entrance after holding my Oyster against the scanner by a station operator.


“Sorry Sir, have you got a ticket for the child?”

“She is 8, she does not need one, she never needed one before!,” I reply

“No this is not a TFL train, you need to get a ticket for her!”

I surrender and go to the ticket office, the queue is gigantic, in front of the machine is but one man. I take my daughter’s hand and we march on to the machine.

The man in front of us types S…t….Al.. then deletes it, types again. He has a few options. Then he starts pulling his mobile out. He searches for his destination. It takes a minute or so and it is St. Alban City. He pays with coins but one of the coins falls through and requires some reinserting. Finally our turn. I type in Crofton Park, Single. There is no option for child fare. I think, “oh the option might come up later”, it doesn’t, I backtrack, start again. Nothing, main menu maybe there is a discount option or something, but it is not to be seen. I ask my daughter to start queuing again for the ticket clerk, whilst I try again with the machine but fail. There are still three people in front, but eventually, we get served.

The clerk confirms, yes I do need a ticket for the child and it costs £2.20.

Finally, we get through the ticket barriers with my child’s ticket, a triumph, but the train we needed has left about five minutes ago.

I try to check for the next train, but there is no mobile phone signal down here. However, there is Wifi. I get connected, but my smart phone tells me that “I am connected, but there is no signal!”

I decide to take any train that goes to Blackfriars, an interjunction and do the mobile phone checking there as it is outdoors. We board and do that without problems. It is 18.40 by now.


When we arrive I check for the next train to Crofton Park and departs in 24 minutes. OK, enough time to buy flowers outside. Will my daughter be able to get back in with her ticket? No, but the man at the gate says it is OK as long as I come back to him. I smile, somebody human at last. On the wayout, my daughter spots a Beauty and the Beast Magazine at a newsagent and asks me if she can have it. We agree to buy it after the flowers, which we find at a Sainsbury’s Mini Supermarket opposite the Station. Paying is slightly complicated because it is a machine, and it does not recognise the flowers on the loading area, but we manage in the end, rush back to the station, buy the magazine, find the operator who let us out, who is enticed at the sight of the flowers and allows us back into the station platform area.


We then wait for the 18.04 to Sevenoaks, whilst I text my friends that we will be late. When the train  arrives there are business people who already wait strategically to rush in and gather a seat when the train arrives. I tell my daughter to hurry and get a seat for herself. She fails as grown ups oversee her and push her to the side in their own hope for a seat. Being polite she holds back, only to have three people take the seats she chose. She turns to the other side and there is but one seat left, I tell my daughter to take it, and she does, eager to read her magazine. I end up standing.


I check for directions​ on my phone again and it tells me to take a later train. Ah, surely it is unable to figure, that I am on the right train already, I think. With the train full to the brink I have no sight of the announcement board inside and just hear each individual station being individually announced.

There is no Crofton Park coming up… My daughter finishes reading the entire magazine. Thank goodness we bought that, I think.


The Train eventually stops in Beckenham Junction. “Dad, everyone is getting off, are we getting off?” I answer her no, as I  realise,  she is right. “OK, looks like we need to get off after all, but I do not know what is wrong with the train!?”


What now? Why did the train stop and where are we? I consult my phone again for the route to Crofton Park  and it comes up with a disappointingly complicated plan that involves two more trains. I ask a station operator, he confirms, we should take the next train to Shortlands, and then make our way back from there on another train to Crofton Park.

There is a train coming now on platform three. We rush to platform three, and are in Shortlands 5 minutes later, and looking at the time, we are now very late, I decide it is time for a taxi.


We leave the station and I look for a minicab station. There is none in sight on either side. So I think, not to worry, I order one from the phone, which however informs me now that, my battery has 15% charge left. Got to be quick now before the battery empties.


I try the service Gett first, which finds and orders black cabs, because I have a discount voucher. But after I typed in the destination no one picks up the job, and I can not see schema participating cabs in the area on the phone’s monitor. It seems this is an area where you do not want to hang out for business as a cabbie. 

Never mind, I figure, let’s try Uber instead. I type the destination in and get to payment. Unfortunately, the credit card details are old, so I try to update them, typing in my card details and all, but after typing in my post code it refuses to accept the card. After trying trice more, checking every detail, I give up. “Let’s take that train back to Crofton Park.” I tell my daughter, who is by now understandably somewhat anxious and holds my hand firmly.


I text my friends what’s happening and we take the train back to London that stops at Crofton Park at about 19.15 and we arrive in another ten minutes at my friends.


I am still not quite sure how we ended up in Beckenham Junction. It seems though that when we were at Blackfriars, thinking we board the correct train, we failed to realise that we actually boarded a late arriving train that was sandwiched in before the train actually wanted. Maybe though, I was by that time just bewildered and got it wrong? I am not too sure, and I won’t go and call the train operators, nor Gett and Uber (how long would that take?) to find out what the problem was in each case. I am sure however, I will ask others next time, to confirm to me, if this train goes where I wish to go and before boarding it, rather than just relying on what I think it is. For sure, there were problems also with the taxi Apps, and TfL could negotiate the London-wide free child travel also to be applied with national train operators like Southern Rail who cruise through London. But annoying though it was, somebody allowed me with a passing comment at the dinner to make sense of it all.

At the traditional Jewish Passover seder we remember the exodus from Egypt. One of my friends there joked on hearing our arrival story, that it took the Israelites 40 years of bewilderment in the desert toreach the Promised Land, so our journey was evidently our special little seder treat. I drank an extra glass to that! 

Jüdische Allgemeine: Brautkleider Fair Gehandelt | Fair Trade Bridal Wear

Atelier Tammam Ich traf Tammam auf einer Neujahresfeier einer Bekannten.  Sie viel mir auf weil sie libysches veganes Essen mitbrachte.  Neugierig fing ich an mich mit ihr darüber zu unterhalten.  Bald begann sie mir von ihrem Modehaus zu erzählen.  Fairtrade Brautmode, so was hab ich noch nie gehört.  Als ich am nächsten Tag darüber googelte stellte sich heraus dass sie nur eine von wenigen war, die so etwas machen.  Somit beschloss ich darüber zu schreiben und fand mich bald in ihrem Atelier wieder.


I met Lucy Tammam in London on a new years evening of friends.  Initially it was her vegan Libyan food that she had brought with her that I noticed, and it led to a conversation.  She soon told me about her business of creating fair trade bridal wear.  I had never heard of such a thing.  When I googled this the following day I learned that she was one of but a few that produced such clothes (in the world).  That was enough for me to decide to make a story about her. and it was not long after that, that I found myself in her atelier.

You can read the article here.  Use google translate if you do not speak German


Website of Tammam

Continue reading “Jüdische Allgemeine: Brautkleider Fair Gehandelt | Fair Trade Bridal Wear”

D. Zylbersztajn: Ein Karton voller Liebe | A Box full of Love

A short true story that will revive your faith in people in great cities.
Eine wahre Geschichte die Ihren Glauben an das Gute von Menschen in Großstädten erneuern wird!

All Rights reserved! (C) 2012.  Contact author for publication rights!

Ein Karton voller Liebe A box full love of love.
Daniel Zylbersztajn (Taz – London)Berlin
Wenn man in London jemanden nach Hilfe fragt, muss man sich manchmal
wundern wenn überhaupt jemand stehen bleibt. Das alte System der
berüchtigten britischen Höflichkeit gibt es da nur noch selten. Meine
Frau und ich haben haben dazu eine Anekdote aus den 90ger Jahren, die
wir immer wieder erzählen. Eines Tages ging meine Frau um die Ecke zum
„Newsagent.“ – eine Variante dessen was in Deutschland als Kiosk
bezeichnet wird. Sie wollte, dass der Besitzer ihr „den Gefallen tut“
und 20 Pfund in zwei zehn Pfund Noten umtauscht. „Können sie mir bitte
einen Gefallen tun?, fragte sie. „There are no favours here in my shop!
– Hier in meinen Laden gibt es keine Gefälligkeiten!” brüllte der
Verkäufer meiner verblüfften Frau entgegen,  und setzte noch gleich
hinzu, „Ich versuche hier ein Geschäft zu führen, keine
Wohlfahrtseinrichtung, good bye!”Um so größer war meine Überraschung, als ich in Berlin-Friedrichshagen
zur Post ging. Die Geschichte fing eigentlich damit an, dass ein
ehemaliger Berliner Fahrradverkäufern bei dem ich vor Jahren ein Fahrrad
gekauft hatte, und dem ich kurz bei meinem 14-tägigen Berliner
Aufenthalt besuchte, aus seinem Keller ein nagelneues Hinterrad,
inklusive Gangschaltung holte (Wert fast  300 Euro), weil meines kaputt
war.   „Das kannst Du haben! Ich brauche es nicht mehr. Es steht nur im
Keller herum,“ sagte er.   Somit stellte sich die Frage, wie dieses Rad
jetzt nach London gebracht werden könnte, denn in den Koffer passte es
nicht. Ich verpackte es und ging in meinem englischen Tweetanzug zur
Post in Friedrichshagen, wo ich bei einem journalistischen Kollegen
untergekommen bin. Als ich an die Reihe kam, war das erste wonach mich
die Postangestellte  fragte, ob ich dieses Rad nicht in eine „Kartonage“
legen könnte, dann müsste man es nicht als Speergepäck verschicken.  Das
würde mir mehr als 20 Euro sparen. Dann bot sie mir auch gleich an,
das Rad kurz bei der Post zu lagern, umsonst, einfach so.    In London
hätte das keiner gemacht, da könnte ja auch eine Bombe drin sein, und
überhaupt eine Post ist kein Lagerhaus! In Friedrichshagen da half man
mir auch gleich mit Hinweisen, wo man denn so eine Kartonage bekommen
könnte:  Beim Supermarkt, beim Fernsehgeschäft hinter dem Marktplatz,
oder im Fahrradladen an der S-Bahn Station.Also hinterließ ich das Hinterrad und begab mich in den Fahrradladen.  Man schmiss mich nicht raus, aber am Vortag hätten sie
leider alle Kartons recycelt.  Danach ging ich ins Blumengeschäft, wieder war man nett und höflich, aber es gab keine passenden Kartons:
Dann noch das andere Fahrradgeschäft in der der Hauptstraße von Friedrichshagen.  Sie würden morgen eine große Lieferungen kriegen, einen Karton der richtigen Größe könne man mir gerne aufheben.   Eine Gefälligkeit, ohne was zurück zu erwarten, oder ohne sich über meine
Frage zu beschweren.  Nachdenklich begab ich mich zur Post, um das gelagerte Rad dort wieder abzuholen.  Ich hatte auch noch zwei
Postkarten mit Grüßen aus Berlin zu verschicken.  Ich bedankte mich bei
den Postangestellten, dass sie mir so nett geholfen hatten, und erklärte, dass dies in London nicht so selbstverständlich sei.  Sie
verstanden es nicht, es war eigentlich alles ganz normal für sie.  Wieso unnötig Geld verlieren?  Und hier ein Zettel mit den Massen und den
Preisen!  Später meinte die Frau meines Kollegen, dass normalerweise die
bei der Post gar nicht so nett sind.  Dann liegt es entweder an meinem Tweetanzug aus England, oder dass es Berliner gar nicht mehr merken,
dass sie eigentlich ganz freundlich zu einander sind, ungewöhnlich nett für einen Londoner zumindest.  Als ich am nächsten Tag den leeren Karton abholte, fand ich beim Verpacken einen Zettel darin.
Ich dachte es wäre von der vorherigen Sendung übriggebliebenen, dann las ich was da drauf stand: ” Ein bisschen groß, ihr Karton, aber mit viel Liebe kann man ihn auch kleiner machen.”

Das Rad ist jetzt auf seinen Weg nach London,und ich habe nicht nur 20 Euro gespart, sondern auch Güte und Hilfsbereitschaft erlebt die mir schon fast fremd war.

Morgen schicke ich noch ein zweites Päckchen nach London, es wird leer sein, nur mit Berliner Luft gefüllt. Die verteile ich dann nach Bedarf in London, damit die Leute sich
gegenseitig “Berliner” liebevolle Gefälligkeiten antun.


Seeking help in London can be a difficult task. You can call yourself lucky if somebody is prepared to stop their busy ways in order to help you with directions or anything else you might need. The famous British way of politesses and decency is now part of a by gone era. My wife and I have a little family anecdote about this. Some years ago my wife went into a local newsagent in order to ask the man behind the counter for a favour. She wanted a £20 Pound note changed into two £10 Pounds notes. Quite promptly the man replied to her with a forceful voice: “There are no favours here in my shop!” “I am trying to run a business here, not a charity, he added.Hence I was quite surprised when I made my way to the local Berlin-Friedrichshagen postal office. But lets start at the beginning. During a general short stay in Berlin I visited a former bicycle shop-owner in whose shop I had purchased a special bike some years ago. He and I had stayed in contact ever since. During the visit I told him that the rear wheel of that bike was currently undergoing repairs in London. Without asking, he informed me that he was going to give me a brand new wheel including the expensive hub gear system (worth about 300 Euro). “Don’t you worry, you can take it, because it is only taking up space in my cellar.” Having been on the receiving end of such unexpected kindness, my next task was how I would transport this huge wheel to London. For one, it wasn’t going to fit in my suitcase. So I bought some air bubble sheets and wrapping paper, safely wrapped it around the wheel, put my English tweet suit on and carried the wheel to the post office in Berlin-Frierichshagen, where I was staying with a journalist colleague. When it was my turn the assistant got straight to the point. “Sir,” she said. “Would it not be possible for you to insert the wheel into a cardboard box? It would save you over 20 Euros, because the way it looks now, it would have to be sent as an oversized bulky item!,” she explained. And then she offered to store the wheel inside the post office, whilst I would go outside to search for a suitable box. Try replicating this in London Royal Mail office, and they suspect a bomb or something, and tell you that they are not a public storage. Here in Berlin the lady not only stored the wheel, she proceeded giving me precise directions where I was to search for such empty boxes: The local supermarket, the TV-shop near the market, or the bicycle shop near the Friedrichshagen railway station.

I left my wheel and went on my mission to find that box. First I targeted the bicycle shop near the station. To my surprise I was not told off for asking, but the assistant politely regretted that he had recycled all left over boxes on the preceding day. So I tried the flower shop, but the boxes were to thin. Next was the other bicycle shop on Friedrichshagen’s main road. “You are lucky,” I was told. “Tommorow we get lots of deliveries. If you like we can keep you a an empty cardboard box!” A favour without demanding anything back, or having to moan about me asking. How rare was that in London. I went back to the post office to pick up my wheel and post two postcards. I thanked the postal assistants for their kind ways and helping me, but they seemed a little surprised. They only did what they would do to anyone, help you to not waste hard earned money. On top I was given a note with the permitted sizes and the rates to help me later. Later the wife of the colleague with whom I stayed argued that the postal officers are supposedly not always that nice. I could not help but thinking that perhaps it was my English tweet suit that made the difference. Perhaps it reminded people of that long forlorn style of English politeness? Or perhaps those who live in Berlin permanently fail to take notice of the good natured ways of their fellow local men and women in their expectation for nothing from anyone?

When I collected my box on the following day from the cycle shop I discovered a note at its bottom. I thought it had been left there, a remainder from its previous use, but I found it was directed at me. It read: “You may find that your box is a little large, but given a little bit of love, it can be transformed into a smaller box.”

The wheel has now been posted at its promised 20 Euro saving, but I think tomorrow I should send another parcel to London. Completely empty, with its only contents being a good dose of Berlin air. I shall then distribute this air in London as needed with the aim of helping Londoners to do loving small Berlin-style favours to each other.