1980: I am born in Epsom, a town in the south of England known predominantly for its horseracing tracks. (My mother never much thought she wanted children, she says, until she walked past a pram on the way to the post office one day, looked inside, and realized that actually, she really rather did.) My parents bring me back from the hospital in February, England gray and frozen, and my dad carries me---his first daughter, his first child---from room to room. "This is the kitchen," he says to the tiny bundle in his arms, "And this is the living room, and this is the dining room, and out there you can see the garden." For these next three years, I will have my parents---gloriously, selfishly---to myself. But of course I don't know that yet.
1981, aged one: My mother has me in my pram, takes me out to run some errands. A woman in a shop looks into the pram, clucks sympathetically, and says "Don't worry, dear. It's always the ones that look like that who turn out to be beautiful."
1982, aged two: At some point during the year, we move to Paris. In the evenings, my dad comes home with a baguette; the end is always nibbled off just a little, and it's always because a pack of wild dogs chased him from the station to the apartment, every single time. Out with my mother one morning, I throw a handful of gravel into an escalator in the Metro station and the whole thing grinds to a halt. A few hours later, when we come to take the Metro home again, the men are still fixing the escalator.
1983, aged three: My dad holds me up to the window and I see my mother in her hospital bed. We wave. Later in the evening, or maybe some other day entirely, he leads me through the double doors and a nurse wheels a crib towards us from the other direction. It's the end of March and someone has placed a large Easter egg at the bottom the crib, and I'm never sure, when I think back to it, which I was more excited about: the Easter egg or my new brother, Tom.
1984, aged four: We move to Holland, where we build snowmen at Christmas, and the milkman gives us salty black licorice shaped like cats. My mother drops me off at school in the mornings and for the first week, I'm desperately, achingly homesick. On the third day, I glance out of the huge glass windows of the gym and see her crossing the parking lot. My spirits soar, she's come back to get me! But she moves closer and it's not my mother, it's someone else's. Her hair is far too curly.
1985, aged five: We move to Singapore. Our house has coconut and banana trees in the back garden and a pool that Tom falls into one day. I take the school bus for the first time, catching it in the early dark of the morning before the sun has even come up. One day, from the backseat of the car, I pipe up, apropos of nothing, "what is a reptile, anyway?" Two days a week, Tom goes to a preschool we dub Mrs Lim's School For Naughty Boys, and every time my mother comes to pick him up, the entire class is sleeping. Later, when my family moves back to Singapore in 2002, I will be amazed at what I remember from 1985: the peculiar rounded shape of the light switches, the noise the taxis make---"ting-TING! ting-TING!"--when the driver goes over the speed limit, the humidity that blankets you like a cloak.
1986, aged six: We move again, to Abu Dhabi this time, where Tom and I attend an English school that teaches us songs in Arabic. On Christmas Day, we go camping in the middle of the desert, running and rolling down ochre sand dunes. My dad drives us to school every morning in an enormous green Chevrolet, and one day he forgets his briefcase in the house by mistake, and so he leaves us in the back while he runs inside to get it. It takes a few seconds before I realize that the car's rolling backwards and then I shout for my father, bang on the windows, try not to panic, and then suddenly there he is, tearing wildly out of the house, the hapless briefcase abandoned for a second time. He yanks open the car door, and grabs at the emergency break just as we begin to pick up speed. He scrapes his leg so badly that his suit trousers are ripped and ruined, the gash etched deep in his flesh. For years afterwards, Tom and I ask to see the scar.