i have actually managed to find a solution to my problem a few hours ago but first i'll just explain a little better what i meant.
when you open up the uv texture editor you are normally presented with the menu controls along the top of the screen and a grid on which you place your maps.
well, when i opened it up the menus at the top were all scrunched up to one side (closed/hide status) and there was no grid to see at all.
the solution seemed to be to delete my preference folder. As i'm a complete newcomer to maya (and computers in general if you have read my other posts!!!) i had no set preferences therefore it was no big deal to do this. After this, when i opened up maya and the texture editor everything was fine.
thanks for the replies chaps and i hope this helps some of you out. keep up the good work, this site is indeed a godsend for us students and enthusiasts and quite honestly i don't know where i'd be without it.