20th August

1858 Darwin publishes theory of evolution

Estonia Restoration of Independence Day (from Russia, 1991)

Morocco Revolution du Roi et du Peuple

Akshay Urja diwas (renewable energy day in India – here’s a song called the Energy Blues,

World Mosquito Day (commemorating the day Dr Ronald Ross discovered they transmit malaria in 1897)

Hungarian National Day (Feast of St Stephen):

Originally inhabited by Celts, Hungary was invaded by the Roman Empire, then the Huns. In the 9th century the area was mainly inhabited by Avars and Slavs.

A man called Árpád, the founder of Hungary, led a group of Hungarians (Uralic-speakers from the Ural mountains) to settle in the Carpathian basin in 895.

King St Stephen

Árpád’s great-grandson Stephen I ascended to the throne in 1000 AD, converting the country to a Christian kingdom. He made Latin Hungary’s official language, which it remained until 1844!

They did well for a while, creating a personal union with Croatia, invading Translyvania, leading the Fifth Crusade into the Holy Land (poor Israel/Palestine) with largest royal army in Europe, and King Béla III was more wealthy than the English or French monarchies.

In 1241-2 the Mongols invaded and half of Hungary’s 2 million population were killed. The Mongol’s second invasion in 1285 was repelled as Hungary had built loads of stone forts and walls inbetween.

In 1301-1490 Hungary had some strong kings, like Louis the Great who was also King of Poland, and Sigismund who also became Holy Roman Emperor. King Matthias built the world’s second greatest library (after the Vatican’s), the Bibliotheca Corviniana. They defeated Wallachians, Ottomans, Polish and Germans, and conquered parts of Austria and Bohemia.

Hungary warred against the Turks for about 150 years, and in 1541 it was divided into three parts, Royal Hungary (north-west), the Principality of Transylvania (east) and the Pashalik of Buda (central). Then the Pope, the Holy Roman Empire,  Polish-Lithuania, the Venetian Republic and Russia joined up into the Holy League and defeated the Turks in 1684 and Hungary was united again, under Austro-Hungarian Habsburg rule.

In 1703 there was an uprising against the Habsburg kings; then there were the Napoleonic Wars and the Emperor was forced to reconvene the Diet of Hungary (lol), otherwise known as parliament. This brought in modernising reforms despite the Habsburgs best efforts to ignore them.

In 1848 Hungarian revolutionaries demanded a Hungarian government in Buda-Pest, and generally more independence and equality, and the Hungarian parliament rewarded them by giving ethnic minorities equal rights. The Austrian army came in to defeat the Hungarian army; at first they couldn’t, but then they asked Russian Tsar Nicholas I, the ‘Gendarme of Europe’, to help. Then Hungary surrendered, and Austria  executed the rebel-generals, now known as the 13 Martyrs of Arad. But then in 1867 Austria decided to let Hungary have its own parliament (but it still had to share Austria’s monarch).

After the Austrian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), Austria-Hungary came into WWI on the (losing) side of Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. Afterwards, Hungary gained independence from Austria.

The new Prime Minister, Mihály Károlyi, got rid of Hungary’s army. Hungary was split up: Romania took Transylvania and east Hungary; Czechoslovakia took the north, and Serbia and France took the southern bits. In 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon was drawn up, Hungary lost 71% of its territory and two thirds of its population. Hungarians found themselves ethnic minorities in other countries; industry was separated from national resources, and it lost its only sea-port.

Following the Munich Agreement, in which Europe was trying to appease Hitler, Germany and Italy helped Hungary get bits of its old land back. In 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union; Hungary joined in after Russia bombed Hungary’s cities. In 1944 Hungary tried to surrender to the Allies but was taken over by Nazis instead. 440,000 Jews were deported.

The Russian army encircled Budapest in December and two months later Hungary surrendered. Hungarians were put back in Hungary from Czechoslovakia; Slovaks were deported to Czechoslovakia; and Germans were sent back to Germany. All tidied up.

Hungary then became a Communist satellite state, militarised, industrialised and forced to pay war reparations. Hundreds of thousands of dissenters were executed or put in concentration camps.

In 1956 Hungary tried to have a revolution. Imre Nagy took over as prime minister and promised a liberal and transparent society; then the Soviet army came in and killed anyone who got in the way. Nagy was executed two years later.

Then János Kádár was put in power, and tried to normalise everything and make it a bit more liberal, which helped. In 1989 Hungary became a democracy and took down the barbed wire separating it from Austria. This was the first tear in the Iron Curtain. They became part of the EU in 2004.

Hungary is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park). Hungary invented the Rubiks Cube.

19th August

1939 the first Soap-Box Derby (car-racing using cars made of soap boxes): so build a go-kart or buy a kit or build one for a doll,

1883 Coco Chanel born: so make perfume


National Aviation Day (after Orville Wright’s birthday, US) – so make paper aeroplanes!

I also love these plane catapults:


Afghanistan Independence Day:

Afghanistan had one of the world’s earliest farming communities, from 50,000 years ago. From 3,000 B.C. it began to have urban civilisation; from 2,000 B.C. Central Asian semi-nomadic people came across.

Zoroastrianism was born here (a religion in which all good and creation comes from the god Ahura Mazda, with evil forces or druj opposing him).

Alexander the Great conquered the area, and his succeeding Seleucid Empire gave it to the Indian Mauryan Empire in an alliance treaty. This brought Buddhism.

Then a whole bunch of other empires fought over and ruled the area. During the Islamic Golden Age Afghanistan was one of the main centres of Islam; but then Genghis Khan caused such devastation that many people reverted to rural society.

Later a man named Mir Wais Hotak overthrew the Persians and Khan’s descendants. His son, Mahmud, sacked the capital of Persia and declared himself king, but the Persians weren’t impressed and the dynasty was ousted.

In 1738 Iranian Nader Shah invaded, and a 16-year-old, Ahmad Shah Durrani, led an Afghan army to conquer India, Pakistan and parts of Iran.

But the Persians and Sikhs kept coming back to invade and take bits, and 21 Khan brothers divided up the rest of the Afghan empire once the leader Fateh Khan died.

Then the Brits came in the Great Game, vying with Russia to own Central Asia. We never conquered Afghanistan but we helped Abdur Rahman Khan to power and then stuck our nose in all the politics until they gained independence from us in 1910.

From 1919 King Amanullah Khan started to modernise the country, with better international relations, education for all, no slavery, etc. But he also dared to abolish the burqa and set up mixed-sex schools, so rebels made him abdicate.

Afghanistan wasn’t involved in WWII and didn’t take sides in the Cold War, so, like the child of divorced parents got spoilt by both Russia and America who competed to help build infrastructure there.

But from 1978 a Communist party seized power, leading to civil war with America funding the guerrilla forces, while the Soviets accidentally got involved in government and fighting most of the civil war until 1989. After they pulled out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran got involved.

In 1994 the Islamic State government finally got control, stopped the fighting and introduced democracy (although the Taliban said no, they don’t believe in democracy).

The next year the Taliban began shelling civilians, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s support. They managed to take Kabul and then destroyed women’s rights.

From 1996 the al-Quaeda, headed by Bin Laden, joined up with Taliban and Pakistan forces to fight Massoud. Massoud was killed in a suicide attack two days before the al-Quaeda attacked the World Trade Centre in 2001, and Bin Laden took full responsibility for it.

By December the Taliban government was toppled. Since then coalition forces have tried to rebuild Afghan infrastructure.

17th August

1908 the first animated cartoon, Fantasmagorie, shown – so make a flip-book

1959 Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, bestselling jazz single of all time

1786 Davy Crockett born

San Martin Day (liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru)

Gabon Independence Day: Gabon was originally inhabited by Pygmies then by Bantu-speakers.

They traded with Europeans from the 15th century; explorers became colonialists and in 1910 it became part of French Equitorial Africa.


Independence was kind of acheived in 1960, but the first dictator, M’ba, was heavily supported by France and since him the dictators have been a bit… dictatory. But they have oil and a low population


Indonesian Independence Day (from Japan, 1945):

Indonesia is made up of about 17.500 islands. It was first inhabited 1.5 million years ago by a kind of human called the Java Man (Homo erectus).


42,000 years ago Homo sapiens arrived with boat-building, sailing and fishing skills.

Trade with India brought Buddhism and Hinduism from the 7th century; Islam came from the 13th century.

From 1512 Portugal and then the Netherlands came to monopolise trade.

The Dutch held on until the Japanese kicked them out in World War II, after which Indonesia claimed independence.

Becoming anti-Communist and therefore supported by the US, Indonesia has more recently become more democratic.

Try a wayang kulit (shadow puppets), badminton and football.