on a reload - the symptom dissapears.
the </td> came slap bang after a </if> - by inserting a space between them it seems that occasionally the space is deleted (no big deal - but disturbing)
the bare < character is either from the opening < of a </if> tag or from the <slave> tag.
I built this master from another one (that seems not to exhibit the problem), so I'm going hunting for unbalanced tags (but it looks ok so far).
it's just wierd that it is random (like one in every 5 or so)
has anyone experience anything like this?