They’re supposed to be secret, aren’t they? Mysterious, heart-flutteringly puzzling and spiced with tummy-wobbling romance.

But when you sign your name before you start, a Valentine’s message is none of the above. It becomes rather more real, a bit dangerous and you’re as chillingly exposed as the naked rambler on Cold Fell.

“Go on then,” he said. “What’s so blooming special? Tell me why you love Carlisle.”

On the spot or what? Where do you start, when charged with making honesty your only policy? Take a big breath, girl. Wade right in.

“The truth is I don’t always. Not every day. Not all the time. But…”

That cheered him up. There’s nothing so pleasing to a challenger than hint of a back-track. No reverse gear here though. He’d forgotten the “But”. And it was a big one – for such a little three-letter word.

So, by way of exposed honest policy, here’s my Valentine’s message to Carlisle:

You are small and imperfect; you delight and infuriate; you’re tough and touchingly kind in equal measure. You can be traditionalist to the point of regression but you fight with fierce dignity to preserve your identity. You call a spade a shovel and get on with digging for a future, when those who could and should ease that process choose to short-change and overlook you… repeatedly.

Anne Pickles

Enough? Not nearly. Might as well face reality. When you start, you need to finish – or at least keep going. Carlisle is no cushioned bed of roses – but when was love ever that?

I’ve known bigger, more glitzy cities with all the amenities and advantages we lack and some to spare. Do they have what’s ours though? Not that I’ve noticed.

It isn’t fairy dust. Carlisle would scoff at fairy dust and trample it underfoot. More like grit, run through with a no-nonsense sensitivity to the needs of neighbours and community. And that’s not magic. It’s graft – with character.

It would be wrong to define Carlisle by her difficulties. Floods, for instance. Carlisle and floods shouldn’t be forever synonymous. But when you, dear Valentine, were broken – more than once – you didn’t wear your grief on your sleeve. You rolled up your sleeves and got on with the heavy work of mending. And that’s something.

And I suppose, were anyone to judge Carlisle by some headlines, this small imperfect city might be seen as the Badlands – a hotbed of crime. Not so, obviously. If wrongdoing were the norm, it wouldn’t make headlines in the first place. Decency is our foundation. Good people with solidly northern values make up our majority.

It was just short of 11 years ago that I pitched up here, knowing nothing of this border city – other than that its centre was endearingly attractive.

“You’ll find Carlisle very quickly gets under your skin,” whispered the man who was later to become the city’s MP. “And once it does, you’ll not want to leave.”

Never having been one to easily trust politicians, I took his words with a pinch of salt. But he was right. Carlisle, you are under my skin. Hence my Valentine’s message.

Yes, I like to get away from you from time to time. Don’t we all? But there’s a lot to be said for coming home – when you know with certainty where home is.

So, would I like you to grow; shed some of your imperfections; move a pace or two away from your entrenched traditionalism towards modernisation? Would I dance a celebratory jig were you to occupy a grander spot on the national and international economic and cultural map?

Probably. But not all the time. Not every day. Because, as that sickeningly sugar-coated 1970s love song points out, most of the time: “I’ll take you just the way you are.” Rough, smooth and all bumpy bits in between.

That’s the way love is, even without the sugar coating. And, right or wrong, we can’t help who we fall in love with.