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‘Just Amazing’ : The Irvine of Scotland Comes Calling

Times Staff Writer

Allan Caldwell had left his kilt upstairs in his Newport Beach hotel room. He was dressed in the utter opposite of tartans--wearing a bright-white sport shirt unbuttoned to the chest, white slacks and white, woven-leather loafers.

In a Scottish accent smoothed by seven years of BBC newscasting, Caldwell explained his mission on behalf of the Irvine Development Corp., a Scottish firm and the developer of Irvine, Scotland.

Caldwell said he intended to “strengthen friendship links and create a general awareness of Irvine, Scotland,” in Southern California.

Meanwhile, his colleague, coincidentally named Peter Irvine, was off handling the actual contacts with local firms that might be interested in opening offices and factories in Scotland.

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‘A Few Chat Shows’

Caldwell, the firm’s press and publicity manager, had been spending his time talking at “a few radio stations, a few chat shows, interviews with the local media, the chamber of commerce people, the World Trade Assn.”

Friday he was in California’s Irvine--actually, at the Hotel Meridien just over the border in Newport Beach--to “twin” the two Irvines and perhaps make them official sister cities.

“Just now, the link is fairly tenuous,” Caldwell said. Members of his firm discovered there was an Irvine, Calif., in 1983 and sent two people to make contact with community leaders, he said.

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“There are only a very few organizations that are corresponding with each other, like the chamber of commerce. . . . Hopefully, with the support of other organizations and with much greater correspondence between the two cities on all levels, the communities will then have the chance to set up an official sister city link.”

Caldwell said that as a step toward that goal, he is setting up a pen pal network between the two Irvines.

He hopes to do this by being interviewed in the local media and mentioning that anyone wanting a pen pal in Irvine, Scotland, should send his or her address there to Caldwell and he will publish it in the local newspaper.

The two cities are quite similar, he said. The Irvine Development Corp. of Scotland and the Irvine Co. of California “both do the exact same job. We’re developing the area--industrial, housing, social amenities.”

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The Scottish firm, however, is an arm of the state government agency that creates what the British call “new towns” and what Americans call “planned communities.”

“We are nonprofit-making,” Caldwell explained.

The Scottish Irvine is a seaside community begun in 1966 on the west coast 28 miles southwest of Glasgow. Traditional industries such as shipbuilding and mining had been declining for years, so the firm was formed to build a new community based on high-tech industries, Caldwell said.

Industries Arriving

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So far, several industries have moved to Irvine, including a few American firms, and the town population has reached 57,500 on its way to 95,000, Caldwell said.

What does he think of the California Irvine?

Well, he said, this is his first trip to America, let alone Irvine. He has spent some time driving through Irvine, and “I suppose I’d describe it as a much richer town. There is notably affluence here.”

He met one man, “and he invited me to his vineyard. His brother’s got a boat in Newport Beach, so he’s going to take me out in the thing in a couple of days.”

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Then there’s the price of houses. “It’s absolutely unbelievable! " he said. “It appears to me that your average three-bedroom decent house in this area costs, what, $200,000?

$80,000 Bargain

“In Irvine, Scotland, I have a bungalow with four double bedrooms, three bathrooms, a very large L-shaped lounge with a sunken TV lounge in the corner, very large grounds and a double garage, and that’s $80,000.”

And there’s the sheer scale of things. “It’s obviously large. On that kind of scale it’s kind of difficult to take in because in Scotland, you know, no matter what city you’re in, a maximum of 20 minutes’ drive will have you in open countryside without a building in sight.

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“It’s quite an unusual experience to drive and drive and drive and not see any open countryside for a while.”

And there are the strange people you meet, he said. There was that day in Pasadena when he was dressed in his kilt for a radio interview--part of his “general awareness” mission--and was set to go on the air after a faith healer. Afterward, he found the healer on the sidewalk “waiting for me to invite her to lunch.”

He did so, “and she said, ‘Do you mind if I find out what you’re all about?’ I was expecting a half-hour conversation. ‘Fine,’ I said.

‘Meditating and Humming’

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“And she starts putting her hands on my body, meditating and humming and what-not, and as she moves up the body she tells me different things.

“And it culminated in her giving me a piece of crystal, which she says draws energy and is good for you, and inviting me to an Indian sweat house in Palm Springs.

“I thanked her very much indeed and took a note of her phone number, but it’s just amazing the sort of people you meet here and the situations you get into.”

Like not being able to convince the hotel maid that you really want the window open and the air conditioner off, he said.

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Or walking into a bar and asking for a whisky and being given bourbon. “That’s sacrilege,” he said.

Or being invited to Irvine’s “Chili Cook-up, or something like that.

“Sounds very interesting. I have no idea quite what it is, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.”


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