The Motorway: Life in the Fast Lane, BBC 2, review - Well on the road to boring

Oh, the glamour of the M6 on a wet and windy night

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The Independent Culture

What can be more boring than those people who describe every detail of their car journey (which junction, which toll bridge, which M&S sandwich at the service station...) and then follow up by describing the alternative routes they might have taken, but didn't?

And what is more boring than all those interminable documentaries on topics you never knew you didn't care about till now? So BBC2's new four-part show The Motorway: Life in the Fast Lane was well on the road to boring. Thankfully, it took a detour at the traffic lights.

An aerial shot of Spaghetti Junction was the perfect opportunity to contemplate what's going wrong (and right) with mass transit. The Birmingham section of the M6 was opened in 1972 and now serves around 140,000 vehicles a day – double the amount it was designed for. The result is three-mile long traffic jams, dangerous driving and constant maintenance work, all overseen by the Highways Agency's regional control centre.

That's enough about the road though, because like all good observational documentaries, this was really about the people. The frustrated commuters, the roadside residents and most of all the bloke whose job it is to pick up rubbish at the side of the lay-by: "On the M5 you find your money, on the M50, you find your porn", apparently, and on both you'll find several bottles of "proper driver Tizer" – aka lorry drivers' wee. "Either we've haven't got enough services or they've just got a fetish for peeing in bottles."

The Motorway captured all this, but also the strangeness, the mystery and, yes, even the glamour of a lonely stretch of the M6 on a wet night, when the shiny black tarmac glows orange in the maintenance vehicle headlights. "Have you ever laid down on the M6?" asked one worker, channelling the Joker in Batman. "I have. And I've played football on the M25."

One elderly couple had been living – and suffering – in the great road's shadow since it first opened. They said they regretted not emigrating to Australia years ago, only it wouldn't have been possible: "She'd miss her mum," explained the husband with a chuckle. As we've learned from three years of Long Lost Family, that's no inconsequential consideration. The pain of family separations remains raw even many years later.

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