Agnes and Me was named after my mother. My mother was christened Agnes, a name she was not especially dying about; notably the shortened version of Aggie. I was the middle of her five daughters and seven children. We lived in a small border town in Northern Ireland, best known for its unemployment and the frequency with which it was bombed during The Troubles.
Despite the Troubles, or maybe more so because of them, we lived a very simple, local and natural life. There were no fast food outlets for any years. It was 2017 before McDonald’s opened its doors for the first time.
We only had local shops; suppliers were local farmers and exchanges happened without farmers markets. We got fresh eggs, with chicken poo on them, in exchange for the weekly papers from my father’s newsagent, which doubled as a bakery. “Poached” salmon was not a cooking method. The ill-gotten but delicious fish were exchanged for bread baked by my uncle and sold by my father. We, well Agnes, grew our vegetables. We dug the potatoes and picked the peas. She was happiest in the garden but was also a great cook. It was creative outlet in an otherwise hard life raising seven children in a war-torn town and in a culture where feminism had no place!
She had simple tastes and habits. Oil to clean her face and always a jar of Ponds cold cream in the bathroom which I loved to use – so thick and white. I am not sure how natural that was but everyone used it in the early 70s. She rubbed clove oil on our gums when we had toothache. Rubbed us with dock leaves for stings and slathered us with olive oil before sending us out to lie in the sun. There was precious little sun in Northern Ireland, so this did not happen often. It turns out Olive oil is known to be rich in vitamin E, a naturally occurring antioxidant with soothing properties. It not only moisturises the skin but helps develop that golden tan and sun-kissed look. So all along she knew what she was doing.
I left Ireland as a newly qualified nurse and went almost as far away as possible, ending up in Australia. Looking after my Irish skin became critical in the hot, active and outdoorsy Australia. I tried many different skin products and started using locally-made, natural Australian products in the 90s. Around that time I became deeply interested in essential oils for health and used them in my daily skincare. I have been making my own oil blends for years.
I married a Kiwi and moved to New Zealand in 2005. So now I really am the furthest from my place of birth but somehow it’s the closest I feel to home. Choosing to live in the Titirangi bush on the edge of the Manukau Harbour brought me closer to nature; or bang in the middle of it. This very different life after busy city living in Sydney encouraged me to actively remove toxic products from my life. And to think more about my environment.
I started making my own skin products after going along to a talk and workshop on natural cosmetics at the Sustainable Living Centre in New Lynn. We were taught to make a basic balm but I was hooked – I bought the book, ordered the ingredients and made the balm for my friends. I have developed my products a lot since then but continued to make, use and give away my face cream and body butter to friends. Initially, I gave it freely and was just happy people wanted to use it. I used it just to be good to myself – simple as that.
The finest ingredients, organic where possible, are critical to me because I want to give my skin the best nutrition. And when you are making products for yourself and friends it is inherent to use the best you can. Now that I’m making it for others I follow the same principle.
Hopefully you enjoy Agnes and Me products as much as I do as well as those who have supported and encouraged me on this journey over the years. This is also a tribute to Agnes, my mother, who passed away in 2000. She would have loved these beautiful, natural New Zealand products made in small batches using all natural plant-based ingredients, which are organic and Fairtrade where possible. The essential oils smell lovely but they also serve a purpose: to lift the mood and emotions and work with the body to nourish, replenish, regenerate, soften and smooth the skin.